Adobe Stock photo | Due to budget shortfalls that NCDOT was already facing, compounded with a significant loss of revenue from gas taxes and auto sales taxes related to COVID-19, NCDOT has implemented several cost-saving measures this year which include reducing its mowing cycle along state-maintained roadways and highway medians.
Photo by Chris Burritt/NWO | Citizens who have safety concerns related to abandoned structures such as this one in the 7600 block of N.C. 68 in Stokesdale are encouraged to contact Guilford County’s inspection department. The department does not address overgrown, junky property that is an eyesore, however, rather only issues relating to “life safety.”
Q: The grass on the sides and medians of U.S. 220 in Summerfield recently got so high you couldn't even see over it when turning onto the highway in certain areas. Not only was this an eyesore, but dangerous. I understand NCDOT is facing budget constraints, but why was the grass mowed in other areas of 220, such as in the Greensboro city limits, but not in Summerfield?
A: NCDOT division engineer Mike Mills emailed Summerfield Town Manager Scott Whitaker in May to inform him that DOT would not begin seasonal mowing operations until after June 1. Mills wrote that DOT will also only be mowing three cycles this year, rather than five to six cycles as it routinely does.
"We have also eliminated such operations as our litter contracts, weed eating contracts, wildflower program, etc., and have also reduced the number of our consultants, contract inspectors and temporary employees by at least 50%," Mills wrote in his email, noting that the department could face further cuts and/or elimination of programs in the future.
In an update from the League of Municipalities Whitaker shared with council members in May, the League confirmed that NCDOT has experienced major funding shortfalls due to the COVID-19 crisis, which compounded the financial constraints the agency was already facing.
To offset the shortfalls, the agency has put a pause on most road projects and significantly cut back on all routine maintenance activities, including pavement patching, traffic signal maintenance, mowing and landscaping, sign repairs and storm repairs. The League advised municipal officials to consider the extent to which their town/city would pick up the state's maintenance responsibilities in the coming fiscal year, including activities on NCDOT right-of-ways in town/city limits.
Since the town of Summerfield does not own or maintain any streets within its limits, it does not receive government funding to help with the cost of town-road improvements, not does it have road maintenance staff or equipment.
Regarding why the grass along and in the median of U.S. 220 was mowed in the City of Greensboro limits before it was mowed in the Summerfield town limits, Mills told the Northwest Observer this week that Greensboro mows roads in the city limits and is reimbursed by NCDOT - however, if the city mows more than three times a year, it will only be reimbursed for three cycles of mowing.
Q: There is a dilapidated brick house on N.C. 68 across from the Kings Crossing shopping center in Stokesdale. What are the laws about abandoned structures that relate to safety concerns, hazards to neighbors and being an eyesore?
A: We went to the house in the 7600 block of N.C. 68 N and confirmed some of the grass and weeds in the front yard are waist high, and a tree covered with vines is taller than the house. The roof above the front door is collapsing, which, without a professional inspection, was the most obvious sign of disrepair. The house appears to be vacant.
Stokesdale operates with a small staff and doesn't have its own code enforcement officer; instead, the town contracts with Guilford County for inspections, planning and other services.
We called Clarence Westcott, the county's inspection services manager, to understand the process for filing a complaint about abandoned, deteriorating houses. For starters, Westcott told us that people with complaints can call the inspections office at (336) 641-3707 or his direct number at (336) 641-4956.
"I need to know the address of the property, who's complaining and what the problem is, and we'll investigate it," Westcott said.
He cautioned that his inspectors don't address complaints about overgrown, junky property, even if it creates an unsightly nuisance for neighbors.
"I can't do anything about yards," he said. "Life safety is all that I'm interested in."
Inspectors evaluate the condition of houses under two categories - condemnation or minimum housing, according to Westcott. If structures fall under either category, they can't be occupied, he confirmed.
If a house is condemned due to life-threatening conditions, such as faulty wiring or a collapsing roof, its electricity is turned off by the utility company, Westcott said.
The owners of structures categorized as minimum housing, which would be characterized by broken windows and doors, are required to board up entrances to prevent people from going inside, he said.
Once a house has been inspected and determined to be unsafe for occupants, owners are required to take out building permits and make repairs before people can live in them again, Westcott said.