Chester struggles with owners of unkempt property

CHESTER – The City of Chester is stepping up its enforcement efforts in its ongoing struggle with absentee property owners and unkempt properties.

Ward 3 Councilman Mike Dotson told Chester City Council on Monday that eight warning letters were recently sent to addresses with high grass, weeds and strewn trash.

“It’s a struggle to get people to take care of their own property,” he said.

One problem property, said Ward 2 Councilman John Woodruff, is 601 Florida Ave., where there is grass and weeds three feet high.

“We can’t find out who owns it,” he said, noting he will be checking records at the Hancock County Assessor’s Office.

Council also discussed two properties owned by Reed Avery: 167 Pennsylvania Ave. and 1042 Collins Memorial Drive. The former property recently was the subject of a summons for Avery to appear in Chester Municipal Court.

City Solicitor April Raines said Avery did not comply with a warning letter and may be in violation of the city’s ordinance prohibiting the accumulation of junk on private property. Council amended the ordinance in April by increasing the penalties for first, second and subsequent offenses.

The city successfully prosecuted a case in February involving property owned by contractor Christopher Graham, 120 Church Alley. Graham, who was found guilty of violating the property ordinance before it was amended, was sentenced to three days in jail and fined $122.

Graham appealed to Hancock County Circuit Court, saying he was being unfairly targeted by the city. Senior Status Judge Larry Starcher recently affirmed Graham’s conviction but suspended his jail sentence, placing him on six months’ unsupervised probation.

In a hearing in April, Graham told Starcher that he had cleaned up his property and was continuing to do so. Starcher told Graham to bring back recent photos showing his property in a “clean, tidy and acceptable manner.”

In other business Monday, council:

Signed on with Travelers Insurance to provide the city’s property, auto and liability coverage, and its workers’ compensation coverage. The new contract, which is effective July 1, will save the city $1,200 a year, Mayor Ken Morris said.

Previously, the city had its workers’ compensation coverage through BrickStreet Insurance. The Travelers quote was a package deal – $43,112 for property and liability, and $19,894 for workers’ compensation.

Council went into executive session after hearing presentations from Commercial Insurance representative Brent J. Burton and John Frankovitch of Assure America, the city’s insurance agent.

A motion by Woodruff to accept the quotes from Travelers and BrickStreet, keeping the status quo, died for lack of a second.

Learned the Chester Volunteer Fire Department is going to build an addition to create more garage and storage space. The 45-by-47-foot addition will cost an estimated $150,000, Chief John Hissam said. Since the city owns the property, council approved a resolution allowing the fire department to proceed with the project.

“When we took the old city hall down, we lost a lot of storage,” Hissam said.

Approved an expenditure of $250 for Energy Express, a summer program that provides meals and tutoring for underprivileged children at Oak Glen Middle School. Volunteer Janet Keller had asked council for $500, the amount the city gave last year.

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