Weed whacking problems in a Fresno neighborhood

FRESNO, Calif.

Each property in each district is billed through a property tax levy, for maintaining the landscaping, the shrubs, bushes, trees or grass along the sidewalks surrounding their neighborhoods. But in many areas the landscaping appears neglected and overgrown. In Tract 4071 many like Errol Silverman consider it an eyesore.

"There's a tremendous problem with weeds right now," Silverman says city crews aren't keeping up. "They clean up the weeds maybe once every two or three months. When they are here they just mow, blow and go."

Resident Paul Liddle named a weed patch at the entrance to this neighborhood for Fresno's Mayor. "I would refer to this as Ashley's garden."

But it may not be fair to criticize Mayor Ashley Swearengin, who's been in office just four years. It was forty years ago in an effort to make new development pay its way, the city started creating individual landscape maintenance districts. Fees were set, and raised occasionally over the years as costs went up. But in 1996 Proposition 218 was passed. The statewide anti- tax measure prevented cities from raising taxes for anything without a two thirds vote of the people.

Fresno Public Works Director Patrick Wiemiller says as costs went up without any way to reimburse the city, services were cut back. Prop 218 limits the city from being able to unilaterally increase the rates so if we see if there is insufficient money to perform the landscape then we don't have any choice but to reduce the level of landscape services.

Wiemiller says it's up to the residents to vote to raise their taxes if they want better landscaping. "It ultimately is the decision of the taxpayers as to how much they would like to assess themselves for their landscape services."

That means the residents of the 219 homes in Tract 4071 or any of the other tracts would have to hold an election and get a two thirds majority to raise their current landscape tax. The amount varies depending on the amount of landscaping and the number of houses in the tract.

But such action is not necessary in newer neighborhoods, created after Prop 218, which have an automatic cost of living increase built in to their tax rate. Wiemiller acknowledges the difference is making for stark contrasts around the city. "You may have people on one side of the street that are spending a thousand dollars a year or more each on their property tax bill for their landscape while across the street you may have someone paying one hundred dollars per household on their property tax."

The $50 per house per year for Tract 4071 brings in about $11 thousand a year to maintain fifty four thousand square feet of landscaping along the sidewalks. Paul Liddle thinks there must be a better way. "I'd like to see it cleaned up like they had been doing. Absent that I'd like to have the money returned to the parcel holders and we'll clean it ourselves and then give the money to charity."

While residents may be free to do some of the cleanup on their own, if they want to get the work done properly by the city or have the city hire a private company to do it, they will have to get their neighbors together and vote to increase their taxes to pay for the improved services.

Residents with concerns are welcome to contact the Public Works Department at 621-CITY or contact their city council representative.

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