Rural residents in Hidalgo County are encouraged to use a program that helps keep properties clean of debris and unsanitary conditions that could lead to illnesses and cause flooding.

Hidalgo County Operations Administrator J. Chris Treviño reminded county residents last week to be proactive during hurricane season and identify potential problem areas before it’s too late.

Treviño manages the county’s Nuisance Abatement Program, which helps ensure that properties in unincorporated areas of Hidalgo County comply with the Texas Health and Safety Code.

The program is designed to address four nuisances: keep property owners from maintaining premises that create unsanitary conditions likely to attract rodents, mosquitos or other illness-carrying pests; keep owners from letting grass or weeds in their lots grow more than three feet; keep owners from discarding materials in a way that obstructs the public’s view; keep owners from blocking drainage easements.

The latter is especially important as hurricane season unfolds, Treviño said.

“ If there’s trash in your drainage easement, the water is not going to flow properly in the event of a hurricane or rain event. They’re going to be backed up,” he said. “So if they see any of these four nuisances, they’re encouraged to report these cases to their precinct, whatever precinct they live in.”

Residents can file a complaint anonymously, he added.

Once the complaint is filed with the respective precinct office, Treviño’s office will begin to research the property to make sure it doesn’t have an agricultural exemption and that it meets all the criteria as specified by the county. If a nuisance is found by one of Treviño’s five certified code enforcement officers, then the property owner will be notified and asked to comply with the law.

If the owner cannot be reached or the issue goes unsolved, the county will fix the problem, or abate the property, and will then turn around and use FEMA guidelines to charge the property owner for the manpower and equipment that was used to clean the property.

“That’s the last of the last step. We don’t really want to do that,” Treviño said about having to step into private property.

Texas law also ensures county officials take every measure to avoid doing just that.

“This process does not happen overnight. We have to follow the Texas Health and Safety Code, which there are several steps that we have to follow and exhaust before we get to the abatement,” Treviño said. “So people can’t call and think ‘well, I reported them. Can the county go clean it up tomorrow?’ That doesn’t happen. We have to make every effort to inform a property owner that a nuisance does exist.”

The idea of this program is to have the properties cleaned up as quickly as possible without the county having to interfere.

“And up until now, we have been very successful in not having to get there,” Treviño said.

His latest figures indicate the county has had a 67% success rate for the nearly 3,000 complaints that have been filed as of October 2017, when the program was first implemented.

“So out of the nearly 3,000 cases that have been reported, we have only had to abate 303, which shows you that this program works,” Treviño said. Nearly 70% of them were successful closures, meaning that the property owner compiled without the county having to intervene.”

The program’s success rate has also been noted by the Texas Association of Counties, which awarded Hidalgo County a Best Practices Award September 2018, which basically invites other Texas counties to implement similar programs.

“We’re here to help,” Treviño said. “We’re not trying to get anyone in trouble. We’re just trying to create a cleaner, safer community for all of us.”