Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

July 31, 2012

Hahira police chief wants tougher laws

HAHIRA — Hahira Police Chief Terry Davis doesn’t just have his sights set on common criminals. At his urging, some Hahira citizens might have to start answering for their street parked cars and uncut grass.

According to Davis, he’s no baby-sitter.

“We can stop these people that we’re having to hold their hands and baby-sit,” said Davis in reference to the grass ordinance.

As the city ordinance now stands, if a property owner’s grass exceeds ten inches, they receive a certified letter of warning. After that, the grounds crew is notified and eventually they must go cut the grass.

Essentially, taxpayers are footing the bill for irresponsible land owners who use the city grounds crew as a landscaping service. While the property owner may be billed for the city’s “service”, if they don’t pay, a lien is then placed on the property.

“There’s no real teeth in this ordinance,” said Davis.

At Monday night’s Hahira City Council work session, Davis was asking the council for help.

“We pride ourselves in keeping our town beautiful,” said Davis. “We need to amend an ordinance to put some teeth in it.”

To hopefully resolve the dilemma of uncooperative land owners, Davis wants to take it to the court system.

According to Davis, a certified letter isn’t getting the attention of habitual violators, but a fine might just do the trick.

“It takes a tremendous amount of staff and time . . . to go after folks that have the grass and the trash piles,” said Jonathan Sumner, Hahira City Manager.

Board member Terry Benjamin acknowledged that the man power and supplies behind sending a certified letter of warning is not cheap.

According to Davis, there are land owners who don’t cut their grass until they receive a warning from him.

“We baby-sit the city over and over and over all summer long,” said Davis.

Council member Ralph Clendenin had some concerns about creating a blanket ordinance that would possibly hurt citizens such as the elderly who are not able to go out and cut their grass.

“Don’t make a blanket law,” said Clendenin. “How are you going to differentiate an ordinance? The law is the law.”

Sumner pointed out that a bottom line has to be established.

“You can talk about moral conflicts or issues with that all day long,” said Sumner.

After a lengthy period of time with Clendenin going back and forth with Davis and Sumner, the mayor was ready to move on.

Davis also had strong feelings regarding cars who park on the curb on streets and prohibit emergency vehicles from getting through.

“We’ve addressed this over and over and over,” said Davis.

Davis passed out pictures to the board of cars parked along a street on Mulberry taken at 8:30 a.m.

“This really needs to be addressed,” said Davis.

As the issue with tall grass, Davis stated that a new generation of citizens has created new challenges.

“Used to, when the police asked you to do something, they did it,” said Davis. “But this generation doesn’t do that.”

For Davis, the street parking on curbs is just a safety issue. When a fire vehicle can’t get through the streets, then that becomes a problem not just for the fire department or police department, but for the citizens.

“I think we’re opening up a big can of worms,” said Clendenin.

Clendenin felt that in regard to parties or guests, there are a lot of citizens that might have some heavy feelings on the issue.

“I would just caution you to be very deliberate and very specific,” said Sumner.

However, come December 31, cars in the streets might be the least of the fire department's concerns because of the possibility of 911 calls not being transmitted to Hahira.

“The FCC is coming up with a new communication format,” said Hahira Fire Chief Dwight Bennett.

As a result of new regulations, Lowndes County is having to put up three new transmitters. Currently, the city of Hahira uses the 911 center in the county. Lowndes County has expressed that if Hahira doesn’t help with the bill of one of those new transmitters, they will stop the transmission of calls.

“If we don’t comply . . . the 911 center will not notify after midnight by December 31,” said Bennett.

Sumner stated that the city of Hahira is only 2,500 citizens of the county’s total of 110,000.

“And we’re being asked to foot the bill?” Sumner rhetorically asked.

Bennett stated that Lowndes County wants Hahira to pay a portion or a third of the third transmitter. While no concrete numbers or estimates have come out, the approximate cost could possibly be $20,000 to $30,000.

“I want ya’ll to be aware of a potential significant cost,” said Sumner to the board.

While the overall consensus appeared to be displeasure over the county’s request, Bennett stated that going in on a transmitter with the county would be best overall.

“We have to have this problem resolved before December 31 or we will not be notified of calls,” Bennett reiterated.

While Sumner was visibly not pleased with the county’s request, he did state that the safety of Hahira comes first.

“I would recommend very seriously taking appropriate steps to ensuring

safety of Hahira’s citizens,” said Sumner.

While the board will vote on the grass ordinance at the next council meeting,the street parking issue will be postponed until September and the issue of the fire fighter radio transmitter will be postponed until more information is gathered in negotiations with Lowndes County.

The Hahira City Council will meet again on Thursday, August 2 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

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