October 23, 2021

City to vote on garbage, lawn care policy changes

The Cortland Common Council could change city policies on trash removal and yard maintenance tonight at its regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m via Zoom.

Capt. Michael TenKate, the city’s interim director of code enforcement, said the council will consider making changes similar to ones made in January regarding snow removal from sidewalks.

In the past, city code officials would send snow removal citations by certified mail to violators — a drawn-out process with a lag time of up to two weeks.

But after the council voted to change snow removal policy on Jan. 21, code officials began either contacting property owners directly or prominently posting tickets on their properties, speeding the enforcement process.

TenKate said he wants similar changes made to garbage removal and lawn maintenance violations.

“That process seems to have worked pretty well with the sidewalks so we want to do the same thing with the grass and garbage,” he said. “There needs to be the ability to take action without sending a certified letter.”

“The idea is to improve the process so that we’re able to move more quickly and efficiently with issues with properties, and I commend Capt. TenKate for bringing this forward,” said Mayor Brian Tobin.

As with the change in snow removal enforcement, the recommended changes to garbage removal and lawn care enforcement will not necessarily result in fines for first-time violators, TenKate said.

If property owners make a mistake and take immediate action to fix the problem — such as remove trash or mow their lawns — then they can ask to have the fine waived, a request that will likely be granted, he said.

Code officers would also have discretion to issue warnings to violators with no record of violations in the past year, according to a policy memo.

The point is not to punish a momentary oversight but to aggressively pursue property owners who repeatedly violate city code — including some who essentially use the city “as their primary garbage removal service,” he said.

“If people call us and say it’s cleaned up in 24 hours, it would be our intent to waive those (tickets),” he said. “But if it’s a repeat issue, there’s a fine associated with that, and it’s escalating.”

TenKate said the code office has three full-time officers, including himself, and this is not enough manpower to police every street every day.

The policy changes would help the code office do its job more effectively, he said.

“We just need to be as efficient as possible,” he said.

The resolutions that the council will consider tonight will not change city laws, but instead modify application and enforcement of already existing laws, TenKate said.