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With no money in the Land Bank coffers, City of Wellington is basically billing itself for weed notice mowing at Crestview Heights

Crestview Heights as it looks going into town.

By Tracy McCue, Sumner Newscow — The City of Wellington has been handing out weed notices to property owners for years for not adequately mowing their lots/yards. But now the city has gotten into the unique situation of billing itself on a weed notice.

The 24 empty lots at Crestview Heights need to be mowed, but the City of Wellington Land Bank that owns those properties currently doesn’t have the funds to do so.

The City of Wellington Land Bank obtained ownership of the northwest subdivision properties on N. Ridge Road in July 2023 after State Rep. Bill Rhiley, who could not pay taxes on the lots (see story here), donated the land to them.

Fast-forward to this spring, and the grass is growing again. The trouble is that there aren’t enough funds in the Land Bank coffers to pay for a professional mowing crew, and city staff doesn’t have the manpower to mow those lots every two weeks.

Technically, the Wellington Land Bank is a separate entity from the City at large, even though its Board of Trustees is the Wellington City Council. On paper, it is supposed to operate much like the Library or the Wheat Capital Manor Boards. Yes, it is under the guise of the City of Wellington, but they are self-sustaining operations with their own budgets to adhere to.

However, because the Land Bank is still relatively young, it needs more help from the city. It currently has about $7,000 in its fund, including $2,000 from a previous land sale and $5,000 initially budgeted through the city.

The problem is when the land bank board sent out bids earlier this year to mow the undeveloped properties, it learned it would cost the city $10,500 annually to mow. There were two bidders; Lawn Care Bizz would charge $695 a pop and W&W Mowing, which charged $970 each time.

The lots would need to be mowed biweekly, equating to 15 times a year between May and November.

Last Tuesday, the Wellington City Council voted down a proposal drafted by Porter for a $10,500 operation funds loan to cover the expense. The loan stipulations called for a five-year repayment period with no interest. The principal would be due every July 1 starting in 2025.

The council voted the loan proposal down by a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Joe Soria casting the decision since the council ended in a 2-2 tie. Kevin Dodds and Mary Lucas voted for it, and Rick Roitman and Cindy Antonich voted against it.  Mike Westmoreland was not in attendance.

The council then went into recess to conduct the Land Bank meeting.

In that meeting, the council, now acting as Land Bank Board of Trustees, voted by a 3-2 margin to request that the city provide $10,000 through its operation budget, which had no payback stipulations.

That motion passed 3-2 with Dodds, Lucas and Roitman voting for it and Antonich and Soria voting no.

When it reconvenes on Tuesday, June 18, the council must decide whether to approve the $10,000 expenditure requested by the Land Bank. Porter is looking for room in the budget for the expenditure.

In the meantime, the weeds will continue to grow and the city is giving itself a weed notice so it can mow the grass.

Porter explained that the city only mows after 12 inches of vegetation growth after weed notices are taken. That is completely different than operating a mowing service for residential property where someone comes in once every two weeks to make it presentable to the neighborhood.

The video of the council meeting and landbank meeting can be found here.

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In other Land Bank news, the trustees failed to vote on Wellington resident Kevin Cooper’s request to pay for two Crestview lots neighboring his property for $500 apiece.

The non-vote essentially was a rejection of Cooper’s proposal.

Cooper, who lives on 2013 Crest Ridge, hopes to use the empty lots, which are approximately 8,400 square feet each, for a honey farm and to plant a grove of trees.

Porter in his report to the Land Bank Trustees, stated 

“As the Trustees may recall, the governing board agreed to place owed specials in abeyance while a property is in the Land Bank. The assessments were not forgiven, so action by the Governing Body would decision on any concessions to the new owner.”

He said that, based on research, each of the parcels has approximately $2,985 in outstanding specials.

Porter also said that based on the parcel’s valuation, each lot is estimated to be worth $9,940 in 2024.

Cooper said he came up with the $500 number based on what he purchased a comparable lot for in 2016 at a tax sale and that Rhiley when he purchased the lots in February of 2018 did so with a sealed bid of under $20.

“Nobody has paid taxes on these lots since, I think, around 2012 or 2013,” Cooper said. “So nobody has cared what the appraised value is. Therefore, no landowner has been looking at its net worth.”

After the vote, Antonich said Cooper could come back at a future Land Bank meeting with another offer.

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