- The Washington Times - Monday, September 10, 2001

Homeowners in Dumfries had extra incentive to spend yesterday's opening day of the NFL season doing yard work. If you don't cut your grass in this Prince William County town, the town will cut it for you and send you the bill.
On Wednesday, Dumfries Building Official Bill Okuly and four public works employees cut the grass themselves at four houses that had ignored repeated warnings. Those residents will be billed $50 for the first hour of work and $25 for each hour thereafter.
"I remember one yard in particular this summer that ran up a bill of $400," Mr. Okuly said. "It was a half-acre lot that had all turned to milkweed." He said he has seen lawn grass allowed to grow almost 6 feet high.
So on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon, residents of the town of 5,000 were out in force, mowing grass and trimming weeds before the lawn patrol paid a visit to their homes.
A tow-truck operator by day, Stuart Morris had no trouble maneuvering his riding mower around the 3-1/2 acres surrounding his house. With a soda in one hand and a cell phone in his lap, he cut ballfield-straight lines. At about 4 inches, his grass was well short of the 10 inches at which homeowners receive a $25 fine.
Mr. Morris said it has been two weeks since he last mowed, and though he sees Mr. Okuly's white truck in the neighborhood regularly, he has never been cited.
"It does make you wonder if you're going to come home and have a ticket on your front door," he said.
Every month, Mr. Okuly checks residents' front lawns. Every three months, he checks the back yards. In the past two weeks, partially because he has been checking back yards, Mr. Okuly has written more than 100 tickets.
But the recent tight enforcement of the ordinance, adopted years ago predominately to force nonresident landlords to maintain their properties, has produced protests from residents of the town, about 35 miles south of the District. In May, a resident complained to the Town Council. Last month, more residents spoke up.
As a result, the council agreed last week to a new policy giving Mr. Okuly more discretion in issuing tickets.
"If they have a good explanation for not mowing their grass, such as that they were on vacation or sick and couldn't do it, I can void the ticket," Mr. Okuly said. In addition, he will void the fine if a property owner cuts the lawn within 10 days of receiving the ticket.
Council member Clyde Washington said the new policy should ease concerns.
"I think this will bring a lot more peace and understanding," he said.
Former council member Van Keys said even he has been cited for failure to mow.
"I paid it," Mr. Keys said. "I was mad, but I paid it." Still, Mr. Keys defended its enforcement.
"I don't think there's been anything done that's overly aggressive," Mr. Keys said. "You've got yourself a real nice yard and your neighbor's yard has 2 feet of grass. That brings down the property values."
Mr. Keys' grass barely rose over the soles of his tennis shoes.
Down the street, Jason Craig was out pushing a hand mower with a carrier to catch the clippings. His lawn, about a third of an acre, was thick but not so tall. He usually cuts on Fridays.
"When people start enforcing rules, apparently there's a problem somewhere," Mr. Craig said, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the tail of his T-shirt. And if for some reason he is the next target of Mr. Okuly's lawn patrol?
"I'll just have to eat it and pay it," he said. "That's the way it goes."
mThis article is based in part on wire service reports.

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