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Heavy Rains Sprout Unwanted Problem

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LAWTON, Okla_Heavy rainfall in the months of July and now August have been a welcome relief for lawns, lakes and wildlife, but unfortunately, it's also caused a problem that's sprouting up all across Lawton.

Overgrown grass and weeds are keeping the city busy. Over 800 lawns in the month of July were identified as overgrown, and it's sucking their budget dry.

The city has a budget of about $80,000 to mow and clean-up properties, and in the last month alone they spent $30,000 doing just that. Complaints are up 50 percent from last year, and they said all of this as a result of heavy rainfall.

"It sounds like we used forty percent of our budget in the first month. That sounds terrible, but by September, October it really does wind down, " said Richard Rogalski, City of Lawton Planning Division.

Rogalski said the past ten years have been dry. Like everyone, the city has been excited to receive the rain, but unfortunately, it's putting a strain on operations.

"The thing about the rain is it's a godsend for us, and it makes the neighborhoods beautiful, it makes the wildlife refuge beautiful, but that grass growing later in the summer isn't something we're used to, " Rogalski said.

In the month of July alone, they identified 842 lawns that were overgrown, meaning they had grass or weeds over 12 inches. The city is spending thousands on cutting vacant lots and yards not in compliance.

"We do our best to try to keep everything looking good. That's really what we're trying to do, " said Rogalski.

Rogalski said it's not just an aesthetic thing. Overgrown weeds and grass raise health and safety concerns. They can block sight lines on roadways and even breed unwanted insects and rodents that make their way into homes.

"It comes down to something that's a life safety issue or an infestation issue. When you have a lawn that's 12 inches high you'll get rabbits and mice and insects and all sorts of things, " Rogalski explained.

The city has seven code enforcers that drive around inspecting lawns, but they also rely heavily on neighborhood complaints. Rogalski stresses they're not out to get anyone.

"There is no area that we over-focus on, or under-focus on. We try to get around to see as much as possible, " Rogalski said. "But, you are still looking at just seven sets of eyes."

The city has their own properties to clean up too. Rogalski acknowledges the rain has made it difficult to keep up with the unwanted weeds for them as well, but he says the best thing to do is bite the bullet and stay on top of it.

"Just keep it mowed. Keep it down to a reasonable level, and you don't have to deal with any of this, " said Rogalski.

Rogalski said the bulk of money spent by the city is mowing lawns of vacant lots or unwanted properties. When mowing an inhabited lawn they're able to collect a fee of around $200, but when there is no one to contact the city eats the cost.

Rogalski also urges rental property owners to register with the city. This allows the city to make direct contact with the property owner in the case of an overgrown lawn so no citations or fees have to be issued.

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