Sharon officials get fired up over high grass

SHARON, Pa. (WKBN) – The city of Sharon has found a unique way to combat blight.

The city administration needed a way to cite homeowners with uncut grass, piles of trash and broken windows, but there was no money to hire new code officers. Three years ago, the entire fire department was trained as city code enforcement officers and they make inspections when they are not fighting fires.

The department canvasses two or three streets every day on a set schedule.

“So we are looking for property maintenance issues, high grass, trash debris, peeling paint, things of that nature,” said Sharon Fire Chief Terry Whalen. “The residents for the most part are pleased. The neighborhoods are getting looked at, getting cleaned up. The only people who complain are the ones in violation.”

In June, the fire department issued nearly 400 notices for high grass, peeling paint and trash debris. By the end of summer, they are on pace to write more than 1,000 notices.

“I think it is a little different. We think out of the box. We have a large area of the city to cover and of course with the whole municipality, most of the departments are short staffed, including the code department. But it works well. As a firefighter, you care about public safety and the maintenance and sanitation of the neighborhood certainly fits into that aspect,” City Code Department manager Bob Fiscus said.

Special language in the firefighter’s contract states the firefighters can inspect homes for the city housing code office. They also act as the city’s rental inspectors.

By using the fire department, the city gained nearly 30 full and part time code officers.

“I think it is good because a lot of these properties need fixed. I try to keep my house looking nice. In my opinion, if they don’t want to do nothing, if they want to be pigs, go to the country,” Sharon resident William Christy said.

The fire department also benefits from the inspections because they get advance knowledge on housing conditions before a fire breaks out.

“We’ll know is it a vacant structure we are dealing with? We will know the condition of the structure many times. Is it a blighted area, those types of things,” Whalen said.

Residents also gets to see firefighters out in the neighborhoods.

City officials said more than 60 percent of people who get notices take care of the problem and avoid citations and fines. If residents ignore the notice, they are cited and can be fined.

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