Higher water rates not a license to keep messy yards

Carson City Code Enforcement employees expect more residents to complain about the appearance of one another's yards once the weather becomes warm and greenery turns brown.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to give final approval for two 14 percent water-rate increases during its meeting Thursday - one hike will be in February and the other in July.

Some residents may reduce their watering as a way to save money and to allow lawns and other plants to slowly die. In some instances this can be considered a public nuisance.

But "just because a plant is dead doesn't mean we will take action," said Kevin McCoy, the city's code-enforcement officer.

Landscaping "can be dead and maintained," he said. "A lot of people are on fixed incomes and they just can't afford to water the grass."

Chapter 8.08 of the municipal code focuses on annoyances. It contains a long list of natural and man-made materials that could be considered a public nuisance if "exposed to open view," according to section 150 of that chapter.

These aren't rules to make people keep their property looking pretty, but are to ensure all surroundings are as safe as possible.

Some plants improperly maintained can send particles into the air and can make neighbors suffer allergic reactions, and dry grass is a fire hazard, McCoy said.

"Circumstances are going to determine what we do," he explained.

If a resident is unable to correct the problem without assistance, these city employees will try to put the people in touch with agencies or services that can help alleviate the situation.

"Our philosophy is 'let's fix the problem and move on.'" McCoy said.

First-time offenses usually warrant a warning. The first citation includes a fine of $100, the second $250 and the third $500.

After that it becomes a criminal matter, he said.

The city can also arrange for the nuisance to be removed and charge the property owner for the service, according to the code.

It's a process set up so residents will find it difficult to use the code as a weapon against their neighbors.

Complaints about possible code violations must be made in writing. This protects people from using the system to harass one another and helps the city determine "whether they are valid" McCoy said.

The goal isn't to write citations but "to educate before we regulate," he said.

The University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension will be offering courses on how to create efficient landscaping so residents can find ways to use less water in their yards and - obey city codes. Call 887-2252 for details.

The last water-rate increase was in 2005. There were no hikes in 2006 because the city wanted to try to reduce expenses before passing on additional costs to customers, according to City Manager Linda Ritter.

• Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber@nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111, ext. 215.

More info

For details about Carson City Code Enforcement, call 887-2190.

To access a complaint form electronically go to:

www.carson-city.nv.us/Index.aspx?page=796

About city code citations

First-time offenses usually warrant a warning. The first citation brings with it a fine of $100, the second $250 and the third $500. After that it becomes a criminal matter. The city can also arrange for the nuisance to be removed and charge the property owner for the service, according to the code.

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