City Hall has recently caused a stir in the community with letters warning residents that parking in lawns and tampering with water meters is illegal in Choctaw.
The city recently adopted a $500 meter tampering fee for Choctaw utility customers.
City staff urged council to put a concrete penalty system in place as a growing number of disconnected meters have been turned on by property owners and residents without settling unpaid utility bills.
However, many residents fear the penalty system could be used to punish private property owners attempting to save their property from flood damage.
City officials say this rule was adopted to add a penalty to repeat offenders that have unpaid utility bills and have damaged city meters and other equipment.
“We’re finally collecting on people that haven’t been paying their water bills,” said mayor Randy Ross. “Some of those people would just go turn their water back on after we shut it off for nonpayment. They’ve been damaging meters.”
The new fee comes when the Choctaw is investing about $700,000 into new electronic water meters throughout the city.
Shortly after news broke of the water meter tampering fee, letters went out to many residents in violation of an existing lawn parking ordinance.
City manager Brian Linley says the city is looking for serious ruts in lawns.
“There are no citations and there should not be any letters going out to our residents for yard parking alone,” said Linley. “I’ve talked with my code enforcement and department head explaining there has to be ruts in the yard. They won’t be sending letters just for parking on grass. They’re looking for serious ruts, long-term parking and behavior that brings down the property value of the entire neighborhood.”
Linley says he hopes residents will take pride in their community.
“Prolonged parking is what we’re trying to address. I’m just trying to get people to respect the neighborhood they have,” said Linley. “I’m trying to get them back over on the driveway. Because if you allow it to continue, it deteriorates your neighborhood, and lowers the value of your properties.”
Public concerns include some properties do not have a hard surface and instead have dirt or gravel drives. Also, street crowding and concrete surface deterioration from added weight of prolonged parking along already dilapidated neighborhood streets are among concerns.
During last week’s regular meeting, City Councilman Rick Modisette brought to the attention of council that he’s heard from many concerned citizens in his rural ward about yard parking.
“What if you don’t have a hard surface? There are many people in my ward that don’t have any hard surface to park on,” said Modisette.
City Councilman Brent Pendergraft voiced his concern regarding the entire existing city ordinance, which prohibits lawn parking.
“I want to call for a moratorium or repeal of this ordinance,” said Pendergraft. “We need to look at some alternative options for people who might have limited income.”
City staff encouraged Choctaw City Council to avoid a law change and assured officials that citations and letters are reserved for severe cases.
“I think to repeal this ordinance would be a serious mistake,” said Linley. “The ordinance was put there for a reason, and I respect our predecessors in establishing that law. We ought to work together to make sure our neighborhoods are nice neighborhoods.”