For the past month or so, some members of the Forsyth County Commission have been discussing the possible need for a revamped residential property maintenance ordinance for the county.
After discussion at a work session last week, the county attorney was instructed to do additional research into how other counties are dealing with residential properties that are not maintained to the level of expectation of elected officials.
The immediate impetus for such discussions apparently is the number of unoccupied properties in the county which have been foreclosed on, and concerns over whether those properties are being properly maintained.
While the foreclosure inventory adds a different spin to an old argument, we caution commissioners to move slowly and cautiously into what can become a very entangled arena - if in fact they feel the necessity to move there at all.
There are many arguments against the county increasing the role it plays in the maintenance of residential properties, none as compelling as the simple fact that it's not the role of the county government to make sure the grass is cut on a residential lot, unless there are clear community health and safety factors involved.
With the current state of the economy, the aesthetics of a well manicured lawn at a vacant home site aren't really a high priority.
The county has ordinances on the books to deal with obvious health hazards or safety concerns. Does it really need to empower county employees to mow the grass or trim the branches just to keep a piece of property looking nice?
And once the grass is cut, do we authorize county crews to add a touch of paint, or maybe repair a broken roof shingle while they are at it?
Similarly, if the county isn't doing the work, do we want a team of grass deputies riding the range and writing citations to the owners of vacant homes when their lawns exceed the approved height for county residences? Taking the argument to the logical conclusion, why stop at vacant homes? Tall grass is tall grass, no matter where it grows.
Other area counties have experimented in recent years with the use of local law enforcement to force community standards on property owners. In many cases, those efforts have been curtailed dramatically in light of public funding shortages.
It's a short step from telling a property owner how high his grass can grow to insisting on a color scheme for painting his house, or setting standards for landscaping the front yard. Those are the sorts of standards typical of private homeowner associations, not the county government.
It is not the role of government to solve every potential problem or to eliminate every conceivable inconvenience. Before enacting any such policy, commissioners should address the question of whether doing so is an appropriate and vital function of the county government or simply flexing of authoritative muscle.