Dothan officials search for ways of decreasing property abatements

A Dothan lot is up for abatement by the city because the grass and weeds have grown to longer...
A Dothan lot is up for abatement by the city because the grass and weeds have grown to longer than a foot.(WTVY News 4)
Published: Feb. 5, 2020 at 5:51 PM CST
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The City of Dothan has 22 different nuisance properties working their way through the system.

As that number continues to grow, it's becoming a problem city officials are looking for better ways to manage.

A nuisance property is overgrown to the extent that it is a safety hazard to people living there.

After a process that takes as long as two months, the city takes care of the property.

Which is called an abatement, a word City Commissioner Kevin Dorsey has said time and time again.

"I've stated this time and time again, ignorance is expensive," said Dorsey.

Every few weeks, Dothan District 1 Commissioner Kevin Dorsey has to vote on property abatements for overgrown lots and yards.

He's never particularly surprised when the majority of the addresses are in his district.

"When I see the Pine Streets, the Lake Streets, the Cherry Streets, I know that's my district,” said Dorsey. “I'm just familiar with those particular areas."

Once a year, he hands out a pamphlet to everyone in his district explaining to them the abatement process.

According to that pamphlet, it's a process that takes up to 65 days from the first complaint to the time the public works department cuts the lawn.

"If the tenant doesn't agree to cut the yard or fix the problem, that's all levied to the city of Dothan,” said Dorsey. “We pay that. The tax payers pay that."

An abatement case almost always starts with a complaint, then the city goes out to assess how overgrown the property is.

The City of Dothan determines that a property needs to be abated when the weeds and grass have grown over a foot tall, because then it becomes more of a hazard than a nuisance.

"Harborage for rats and snakes,” said Dothan Planning Director Todd McDonald. “It's wingy, downy, creates hay fever, plus there's always the probability of a fire."

The city notifies the owner of the property by mail, and gives them 10 days to fix it themselves,

then the official abatement process begins, and the costs start adding up.

"We advertise it,” said McDonald. “We send them a certified notice if it gets that far, and we put out these big ugly signs that cost a lot of money."

According to the last posted abatement list, the signs cost $94 and the newspaper ads ran around $75-$150, that's before the grass even gets cut.

Once the first 10 days are up, even if the property owner takes care of their own lawn, they are still held accountable for paying back the sign and ad costs.

All of the expenses are added to the individual's property tax.

"Last year, we processed almost 400 overgrown lot cases,” said McDonald.

Dorsey uses the pamphlets to try to save both the property owners and city departments’ time and money, but the success rate is tough to calculate.

"It's sort of like when you go to the doctor,” said Dorsey. “The doctor tells you to lose some weight. You come out working out and confident, eating right, but over time it gets back to the way it is."

The Dothan planning director said that if the debt added to the property tax isn't paid, the property gets taken by the state.

Then the city has to keep maintaining until someone else purchases it.

He also mentioned the city is looking into some legislation to make that 65 day process shorter and cheaper.

To report a nuisance property, you need to contact the City of Dothan’s planning and development department.