Grass and weeds had grown nearly as high as the 5-foot-tall wooden fence, and cockroaches were running rampant.
Neighbors of an abandoned home on Valley Drive in the Wayman addition on the south side of Brownstown then started getting some of those cockroaches in their home, requiring pest control to come and spray.
Roy “Gene” Wingler, who lives on Scotty Drive over behind the abandoned home, recently approached the Brownstown Town Council asking what could be done to fix the issue.
Clerk-Treasurer David Willey said letters had been sent to the owner, letting them know they are in violation of the town’s weed control ordinance and had seven days to resolve the problem.
The owner, however, never took care of the issue, has since moved out of state and is letting a bank take over the house. Willey said the owner had called the town hall asking for the sewer to be stopped, but that can’t be done until the toilet is plugged and it’s inspected by the town.
Town employees recently gained access to the backyard and mowed the grass, which hopefully will cut down on the presence of roaches.
A neighbor told Wingler they recently saw someone spraying around the house, but he wasn’t sure if it was for bugs or something else.
Town attorney Rodney Farrow said the roach infestation could be a health issue. Wingler and Willey both said they had notified the county health department but hadn’t received a response.
The issue sparked town council members to discuss the current ordinances and see what could be enforced for other properties that need attention.
Councilwoman Bethany Brewster said that a year ago she brought up an issue about another home in town but that nothing was done about it.
She said it’s time to be proactive with ordinance enforcement.
“This comes up repeatedly time after time in different places,” she said of junky yards and grass not being mowed. “It seems like we’re just putting a lot of Band-Aids on and we’re not fixing the root problem that a lot of property owners aren’t taking care of their lots, and we’re just letting it slide.”
Council President John Nolting said most of the complaints are about homes that have been abandoned. The owner of the Valley Drive home hasn’t lived there in about two months.
Farrow said the town’s weed control ordinance probably needs to be rewritten. Currently, if a homeowner doesn’t take care of the high grass or weeds, town employees or an outside contractor can do it, and then the owner is billed.
“Normally, whoever you end up putting that onto cannot afford it anyway,” Willey said. “That’s mainly why they don’t take care of their places to begin with. The ones that are responsible or can afford it will take care of it. You usually know who you can send something to and get a response.”
Nolting said the town has an ordinance regarding junk vehicles but not junky yards or nuisance properties.
The town also doesn’t have an unsafe building ordinance, but Farrow said he would work on writing a proposal for the council to review.
Two other Jackson County communities, Seymour and Crothersville, have ways of enforcing unsafe buildings. Seymour has a full-time ordinance administrator, while Crothersville has an unsafe building committee.
“Long term looking at this, I’m not asking for people to make their yards perfect,” Brewster said. “Just keep the town looking nicer and keep your area clean and free of vermin and insects.”