A mild winter followed by a warm spring has yielded an early mowing season throughout Ohio, and has kept Pickerington officials busy as they seek to address unkempt and vacant properties.

A mild winter followed by a warm spring has yielded an early mowing season throughout Ohio, and has kept Pickerington officials busy as they seek to address unkempt and vacant properties.

According to City Manager Bill Vance, Pickerington already has spent $1,500 this spring to mow grass at vacant properties.

Although the city has laws at its disposal to recoup some of the expenses, as well as to persuade owners to maintain their properties, overgrown grass and weeds are keeping city officials on their toes.

"It seems like grass cutting complaints and requests have significantly increased in 2012," Vance said.

Vance said Pickerington's residential vacancy rate is only 3 percent. Still, with approximately 4,000 homes in the city, that leaves 100 to 125 properties that potentially have no one maintaining their yards.

"Local properties not treated for weeds have them grow very quickly even after being cut," he said.

"The city has approximately 100 to 125 properties where the homes are vacant and initial maintenance activities did not take place and therefore the condition of these properties became very noticeable to many all at once.

"The collection of these facts has led to a significant number of early code complaints which have taken up a great deal of the city manager's time as well as development services and building department resources, but efforts designed to protect local property values are amongst the city's most important."

Pickerington's "noxious weed" ordinance states "developed" residential, commercial and industrial properties must keep overgrowth trimmed to six inches or less.

"Undeveloped" properties must keep grass and weeds cut to 12 inches or less if the property exceeds 10 acres. All other undeveloped properties must keep grass and weeds cut to 18 inches or less.

Subdivisions with undeveloped lots are cut by the developers every four to six weeks, Vance said.

The city also has an ordinance which mandates banks owning foreclosed properties must register their properties with the city to help coordinate maintenance.

When the city receives a code enforcement complaint related to unkempt lawns or city officials observe a problem property, Vance said, the city first attempts to resolve the issue by contacting the residential or commercial property owner.

Vance said property owners who are contacted typically comply and address the maintenance issues.

When a property owner can't be located, the city has authority to cut the grass itself or contract for those services.

Vance said a lien then is placed on the property to ensure the city is reimbursed.

"In vacant property situations, where the city cannot coordinate the responsible maintenance of residential or commercial properties with the property owner, the city has the ability to and does contract the maintenance of vacant property," he said.

"Properties with identified owners continue to be sent property maintenance requests from city staff designed to bring their property back into compliance with established and recognized city grass maintenance codes."

April 19 and 20 alone, the city had contracted to have 10 properties mowed.

Instances such as these have led Vance to inform Mayor Lee Gray and Pickerington City Council that he will request a portion of unused rock-salt funds to help maintain local properties.

"Bottom line is that we will be cutting a lot of grass over the cutting season and then chasing our reimbursements via liens or recovery pursuits from this point forward," Vance said in an email sent to city officials April 18.

"We have $2,500 budgeted for code enforcement grass cutting but these funds will soon be expended.

"I will be proposing at (Pickerington City Council) Services Committee this evening to use $10,000 from our $86,000 in salt savings."

Despite the workload, Vance said he continues to encourage people to bring problem properties to the city's attention, as unkempt properties negatively impact local quality of life and can deter economic development.

"If Pickerington's residents or property owners would like to report a potential property maintenance issue they can do so conveniently via www.Pickerington.net and going to the 'Departments' page and then choosing the 'Code Enforcement' option," he said.

"Property maintenance complaints can be anonymous but if contact information is left for city staff we can update those concerned on city efforts to resolve."