Columbus has a lot of grass to mow at vacant and abandoned houses.
Columbus also has a lot of people looking for work.
So city officials are looking for ways to get small lawn-service companies - a popular startup business for recession-struck Americans - onto the roster of city contractors who would be eligible for a slice of a growing city program.
The Department of Development has spent $277,390 to mow, weed and remove trash and debris from 1,205 yards so far this year and still has a backlog of as many as 475 more that need attention. Tall grass and trash are considered public-health risks because they're havens for mosquitoes and rodents.
The City Council authorized another $100,000 last week for its current roster of private mowers to attack the backlog, which is concentrated in areas such as North and South Linden, the Near East Side, the South Side and the Hilltop, which have been hit hard by the nation's foreclosure crisis.
It costs a lot - more than $200 on average - because vacant houses become dumping grounds for tires, old furniture, construction debris and other items that must be taken to different places for disposal, said code-enforcement manager Dana Rose. The city's cost covers disposal fees.
Property owners who haven't done their upkeep and maintenance duties get charged for the city's work through their property-tax bills. Columbus also adds a $198 administrative fee. But officials said the biggest problem in keeping up with the mowing isn't money. "Even if we have the dollars, there still are not enough people to do the work," said City Councilwoman Priscilla R. Tyson, who heads the council's development committee.
"Every available certified contractor was utilized this year," she said. "We still have a backlog."
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