Springfield significantly cuts time to tackle abandoned lots, weeds

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Springfield significantly cuts time to tackle abandoned lots, weeds

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The Springfield News-Sun reports on important issues at City Hall, including recent stories on $52 million in upgrades to the city’s Wastewater Treatment Plant and the proposed roundabout at Bechtle Avenue and St. Paris Connector.

By the numbers

320: Number of abandoned properties in the city of Springfield, 60 percent of which were forfeited to the state and must be maintained by the city.

$90,000: Amount of money spent by the city to mow abandoned properties and tall grass and weed violations.

$40,000: Amount of state grant money received by the city to perform Lean Six Sigma training, which led to changes in its mowing policy.

Tall grass and weeds on abandoned properties will be mowed at a much faster rate this spring, which residents and city leaders said will improve the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout Springfield.

The city has about 320 abandoned lots. About 60 percent of them have been forfeited and must be maintained by the city.

By revamping its program — including hiring two workers just to mow abandoned properties — the city has already cut grass and weeds significantly more times than it did at the same point last year.

Mayor Warren Copeland heard many complaints from residents last year about overgrown lots and said he was upset with the city’s mowing efforts. This year, he hasn’t heard as many complaints.

“It’s making a significant difference to the morale of neighborhoods,” he said.

In previous years, the hundreds of vacant lots were mowed only three to four times per year. But this year the city has decided to hire two seasonal employees to solely mow abandoned lots rather than working with multiple contractors.

So far the city has mowed every abandoned lot twice. Last year the contractors didn’t even begin mowing until May 20.

The changes won’t cost more. The city will spend $90,000 on mowing abandoned lots and weed violations, the same amount of money it has used in the past.

The changes to the mowing program are visible, said Shirley Esselman, who lives across the street from a vacant lot on Cedar Street.

“The kids play on these lots and for the city, the neighbors and the community that lives here to keep their yards mowed, it just makes it more attractive,” Esselman said. “It can only help and I really appreciate it.”

The seasonal employees began in March by picking up about 70 bags of junk and trash, filling two Dumpsters, said Community Development Director Shannon Meadows. A month later, they began mowing. In the past, the city would have hired a separate contractor for trash removal before the mowing contractors could get started.

Now rather than waiting on multiple contractors to complete the work, Meadows said the seasonal employees can focus on mowing properties.

“We have a consistent, dependable schedule,” she said.

In the past, the city would also hire several contractors to mow code enforcement violations, which are given to owners of properties with weeds 10 inches or higher. They’re given five days to comply before the lot is given to various contractors to be mowed.

Last year, it took an average of nearly 50 days to cut the weeds on those violation cases, which led to several phone calls about specific properties.

After analyzing the data, the city realized that not all contractors mowed at the same rate, Utilities Program Coordinator Leslie McDermott said. So instead the city decided to hire one contractor, Miller’s Property Service, for up to $40,000 this year.

The city also changed several other parts of the program from how it received violation complaints to assigning its four code enforcement officers to regions and extending mowing hours.

Last year, the first violation list was given to contractors on May 9. As of May 26 last year, contractors had received 156 properties to be mowed, but only 20 were completed.

This year, the first list was handed out on April 23. As of Tuesday, 500 properties have been given to the contractor and 240 have been completed.

The city also worked with the Clark County Auditor’s Office to develop a database of all the properties mowed. That system can track when the overgrown grass has been cut and alert workers when a lot hasn’t been mowed in a while. It can also be used in the field, meaning employees can see when a property was last mowed, Deputy City Manager Bryan Heck said.

Last year, the city received a $40,000 grant from the Ohio Development Services Agency to perform Lean Six Sigma training, a popular management concept designed to make processes more efficient.

The grant focused on increasing efficiency for weed violation and abandoned lot mowing, but the money was also used to investigate ways to reduce fuel costs and streamline other city services.

The process used to improve the weed cutting will also be used to make other processes more efficient, Meadows said, including applying the mapping database to sewer washing and the housing division.

More than 35 employees participated in the training process throughout different city divisions. Employees hated seeing the tall grass, City Service Director Chris Moore said, and decided to take ownership of the process as part of the training.

“The recommendations came straight from the street, straight from the experience,” Meadows said. “The ownership of the program is so deep. It’s personal for the staff members.”

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