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Long IslandNassau

Fix graffiti or pay fine, residents told

Kathy Riley put in a new fence to

Kathy Riley put in a new fence to separate her property from Sunrise Highway. Two days later, vandals broke off five of the pickets and painted graffiti over what remained, she says. (March 30, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Last August, as part of a backyard landscaping project, Kathy Riley of Baldwin put in a new fence to separate her property from Sunrise Highway.

Two days later, vandals broke off five of the pickets and painted graffiti over what remained.

Riley called Nassau police, who she said suggested she buy new panels to replace those that would inevitably be damaged again.

Now, the Town of Hempstead has sent Riley and seven of her neighbors letters informing them that they are "maintaining graffiti on your fence." The letter instructed Riley to have the graffiti removed and arrange for the town to inspect the fence within 30 days.

"I really don't have the money to do that," she said. "And what's the point? If I paint it, they just come and put the graffiti on it again. Every week you see new graffiti. Everybody who tries to replace or paint the fence just gets hit again."

If Riley and her Devonshire Road neighbors failed to fix their fences, the letters said, the town would clean the graffiti -- mostly black and red circles and curlicues painted on the brown and gray wooden fences visible from the highway -- and send the homeowners bills for the work.

Town spokesman Mike Deery said an ordinance enacted in 2009 made home and business owners responsible for cleaning graffiti on their property, with fines for noncompliance ranging from as much as $350 for a first offense to $750 for a second offense.

Deery said he does not think any homeowner has been fined under the measure. "Usually folks comply," he said.

Riley, who hasn't yet fixed her fence, said she hadn't read the letter, which Newsday obtained from the town.

Some other Long Island towns have ordinances making homeowners responsible for removing graffiti from their property. Oyster Bay adds the cost of having town employees clean graffiti to a tax bill, and the Huntington Town code contains fines between $500 and $2,500 for noncompliance.

Hempstead Councilman Anthony Santino, whose district includes Baldwin, said he will ask a community group such as the Boy Scouts to clean the graffiti for the affected homeowners.

"It's a tough situation," Santino said. "They all have long wooden fences, which is a very, very inviting canvas for graffiti artists."

But the town has no means to stop the fences from being tagged, Santino said, and the Nassau Police Department "can't have somebody camped out catching an intermittent graffiti artist."

Helen Donlon, who lives down the street from Riley, said her fence has been painted with graffiti so many times she's lost count.

"I don't worry about anything any more," said Donlon, 88. "I'm too old to worry."

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