Instead of memorable landmarks and scenic vistas, Mayfield city officials saw an abandoned refrigerator, porches piled with junk, plywood-covered windows and trees growing through abandoned homes on their recent group tour.
Codes supervisor William Higginson directed the tour aboard a Fulton County Transit Authority bus as part of Monday evening's city council meeting. Mayor Kathy O'Nan, nine city council members, city attorney Dennis Null, Fire Chief Jeremy Creason and a Mayfield Messenger reporter were aboard the bus. Police Chief Nathan Kent and Assistant Fire Chief Darren French followed in a city vehicle.
"I basically went through our system and pulled out the ones we got the most complaints on," Higginson said at the beginning of the 1½-hour tour.
At one home, Higginson talked about a renter with an apparent hoarding problem who has moved from place to place, eventually leading to complaints in each location she has lived. Several area landlords will no longer rent to her. City workers have gone to her various homes and abated litter several times after giving the required notices. Then she moves and does it again somewhere else, he said.
Higginson talked about finding melted food storage containers, expired food and even deceased pets during abatements at some city homes.
"The smell gets in your clothes, and it stays there," he said.
Councilman Nate Cox said he has looked into some of the complaints.
"A lot of our complaints are currently about trash building up in yards, and we don't currently have an ordinance regarding trash pickup," he said.
Higginson agreed, estimating 75 to 80 percent of the complaints deal with accumulating trash. In most cases, he said, either neighbors call or involved are people whom the city has previously ticketed.
The city bills homeowners for the cleanup when it can find them, Higginson said. In some cases, the owners have died and have no known heirs. In some the owners have gone into care homes. In others, the only income they receive is from government assistance, and the law prohibits the city from garnishing their income to recover expenses.
Higginson pointed out one house that has been abandoned by the owner, who moved and left no forwarding address.
"We're going to have to condemn the house and have it demolished," he said. "Once we do that, we're going to have to end up mowing it and maintaining it."
The city has more than 100 properties on its mowing list, he said.
City officials have talked informally several times about potential solutions. It could post available city-owned lots as for sale to people interested in developing, Higginson said. The city could also require some form of trash pickup service, perhaps including the cost on all residents' utility bills or requiring landlords to include trash service as part of the rent they charge.
That won't stop some people, Higginson said.
"They will designate a bedroom, and they will just start at the back and just fill up the room with their household trash, and then they will move out," he said, saying he has seen it over and over.
At one home, Higginson pointed out three trash cans in a back yard.
"He actually supplies trash pickup," Higginson said. "They've just got to get the trash in the trash can and get it to the street."
As the bus turned down one street, councilwoman Carol Todd said, "This is the first time I've ever been on this street. I've never had any cause to be on it."
Some council members took notes, and several shook their heads as they looked out the windows as the bus passed by properties with high grass, drooping Christmas lights or yet another pile of trash.
O'Nan said she thought it was important that council members see the problems for themselves. Years ago, she said, a previous mayor had arranged a bus tour for council members so they could see homes in parts of the city with which they might not be terribly familiar.
"It was so very beneficial to me to see things I've never seen before," she said. "It has stayed with me all these years."