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Hundreds of vacant lots across the city have become fields of discontent, many covered with grass three-feet high and littered with debris that has accumulated since winter.

Soggy weather, equipment breakdowns and Buffalo's ongoing fiscal struggles have been branded the culprits for a problem some officials say is worse this year than at any time in the last decade.

Unsightly lots have become such a nuisance that the mayor and Common Council have scheduled separate meetings this week to try to devise cleanup plans.

"We have grass so high, you could call it a jungle," said Valeria Cray-Dihaan, who lives in the Jefferson-Utica neighborhood. "The lots are bad all over the city."

"I'm at the breaking point with all this grass and garbage," said Masten Council Member Antoine M. Thompson. "I'm telling you, things are out of control. A lot of these lots haven't seen a lawnmower since April 1."

"We may be broke, but we don't have to live like this," said Brian C. Davis of the Ellicott District.

Officials in the administration of Mayor Anthony M. Masiello acknowledge the problems. "With all the rain we've had, the lots look terrible," said Matthew L. Brown, the mayor's communications director.

"The Council members aren't exaggerating," said Public Works Commissioner Joseph N. Giambra. "They have valid complaints. But all this rain has been our biggest problem. You have to have three or four days with no rain before you can bring heavy equipment onto these lots."

But rain hasn't been the only factor. Giambra said some of the city's grass-cutting equipment is on the fritz, and repairing the machines is easier said than done.

"The way things work around here, it's the end of the fiscal year. We haven't had the money to order parts," he said.

The city also has ruled out hiring outside contractors to help maintain vacant lots, a strategy that was used last year at a cost of $600,000.

"It was very expensive and got mixed results, so we decided to do it on our own this year," Giambra said.

The city owns more than 4,500 vacant lots and some Council members are demanding to see a plan that would ensure better maintainence.

"We're trying to get people to move back into the city and reinvest in our area," said University Council Member Betty Jean Grant. "It's inexcusable to have all these vacant lots, without a plan in place for taking care of them."

Strategic Planning Commissioner Joseph E. Ryan said the problem has become so severe that Masiello has instructed staffers to meet this week and come up with remedies.

"Whatever it takes, we're going to try to get it done," Ryan said.

Meanwhile, the Council has called its own special meeting for Wednesday. Lawmakers have asked state and county officials to attend, hoping they might help the cash-strapped city launch a cleanup blitz. Thompson said he has talked with officials from the Erie County Sheriff's Department about the possibility of using inmates from the Holding Center to help with the cleanup.

The Public Works Department recently authorized some overtime for lot maintainence chores and plans to seek help from Parks Division employees.

"But the parks are in just as bad a shape," Thompson complained.

Cray-Dihaan said officials shouldn't try to blame the budget crisis for the messy conditions.

"You can't let the city go downhill," she said. "The city owns these properties. Not having the money to keep them up is a poor excuse."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com