NEAT

There are properties in almost every Findlay neighborhood like the one on Tiffin Avenue that was pictured on Monday’s front page.
If it’s not a yard overgrown with grass and weeds, then it’s a home with broken windows or doors, peeling paint, a rotted roof, or junk cars in the driveway.
Eyesores have become more common as the number of foreclosures and abandoned properties have increased, but they have always been too numerous.
Since 2004, when Findlay’s Neighborhood Enhancement and Abatement Team (NEAT) was created, it has received at least 1,000 complaints each year.
They run the gamut, but most involve high grass and weeds during the summer and unshoveled sidewalks in the winter. Snow melts, but grass grows until it gets mowed, and NEAT can’t always act as fast as some would like.
The city is doing the right thing by looking for ways to speed up property cleanups, including grass and weed problems.
Two city councilmen, Tom Klein and Grant Russel, along with Law Director Don Rasmussen and Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer, are studying the problem and hope to have some answers by the fall.
One idea is to establish a registration program for foreclosed, vacant and abandoned properties which would help identify those who are responsible for maintaining the properties.
The group must also find a better way to encourage compliance.
When NEAT gets a grass or weed complaint, it opens a case, determines who the property owner is, and investigates. If valid, notification is made to the property owner, who must take corrective action within 10 days. If not, the city arranges to have the lot mowed and bills the property owner.
However, the process can take 14 days, or longer, to complete.
Rasmussen has suggested that there are things the city can do encourage compliance, such as shutting off utilities to properties where the owners refuse to comply, or imposing larger fines.
The city must update its policies to force the hand of property owners whose inaction can have a negative financial impact on an entire neighborhood by affecting property values.
It should consider all options to improve NEAT, including adding staff. The program began with four fulltime and one part-time employees. It now has one fulltime administrator.
NEAT is already making a difference. It just needs more bite so it can make more of one.

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