Sherman recently announced a new citywide initiative designed to clean up trash and blighted properties before the city starts getting complaints.

The Neighborhood Refresh Initiative will see city staff focusing on a different section of Sherman each quarter to clean up things like trash in people’s yards, remove junk vehicles and get rid of substandard structures. Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch said the initiative grew out of the City Council’s focus on efforts to clean up the city during this year’s budget sessions.

“Really, what we landed on was moving from a reactive approach, where we’re getting complaints and responding to those complaints, to more of a proactive approach, where we’re putting people out in the community who are actually seeing these problems before they rise to that level of drawing complaints,” Strauch said. “Right now, we’re starting in southwest Sherman. We’re putting people out in the streets to essentially patrol the streets and look for those really bad actors — people who’ve really let their properties go.”

Strauch explained the initiative was named “Neighborhood Refresh” because city staff wanted to emphasize it was going to be a locally focused effort with a light-handed approach.

“We don’t want to try to take the whole pie at once and say we’re going to get this sucker clean,” Strauch said. “We’re going to go one-quarter of the city at a time for one-quarter of the year. This is not about going out there and beating people over the head with the big hammer of big government. This is about approaching people who have problem properties and seeking voluntary compliance before we ever get to the stage we would have to initiate some sort of formal complaint against them.”

The initiative began with the start of the 2017-2018 fiscal year, so the southwest quadrant of the city will get the focus for the rest of the year and then that focus will shift clockwise at the beginning of the year to the northwest section of the city, using the city’s bulk trash pickup divisions.

City Manager Robby Hefton said the initiative’s efforts are going to be in addition to Sherman’s regular ongoing efforts to keep the city clean and add more resources to that work.

“We’re not doing this program in place of what we’re doing currently, this is going to be an enhancement to what we’re doing currently,” Hefton said. “We’ll take these quarterly concentrated efforts for each segment of the city, while the folks that are already onboard will be doing their same thing to go back and continue to follow-up on complaints that we receive. We believe this will be an enhancement and we’re excited about it.”

The work will initially be spread between five city departments — Code Enforcement, Police Department, Solid Waste, Animal Control and Substandard Structures — though city staff could bring in three others down the line. Some of those departments already work together on things like junk vehicles, which are overseen by Code Enforcement but verified by the Sherman Police Department.

“The other possibilities down the road we could look at bringing into are Streets, with potholes and sign replacements, and Utilities,” Strauch said. “We want to focus on houses that have utilities shut off because those are often times the next wave of problem properties to come along. And then P&Z (Planning & Zoning) — do we want to keep track of where permitting is going on and make sure those processes are being followed?”

Strauch said the city isn’t planning to add any additional staff to help with the initiative at this time but will be refocusing internal efforts in order to better serve the citizens of Sherman.

“They don’t really care at the end of the day what department’s responsible,” Strauch said. “They just want the problem to be solved.”

Council member Charles H. Brown Sr., who was elected last year and opted not to run for re-election this year, thanked city staff for their efforts with the new initiative, as he has previously spoken of the need to clean up the city.

“When I was first elected to city council, that was several of things I was asking to get done to clean up Sherman,” Brown said. “And now as my tenure’s almost up, it’s good to see that that’s happening.”

City staff said the ultimate goal of the initiative is to improve citizens’ quality of life, as no one wants to live next door to someone who has trash and junk vehicles piled up in their yard. And Strauch said this is going to be an ongoing process for the city.

“This is not a one-year thing we’re looking at,” Strauch said. “We’re looking at this as our standard operating procedure going forward. That we are basically getting somebody’s eyes on every house in Sherman within every year.”