Codes enforcement officer Leslie Johnson said she spent a whole day last week picking up illegal signs located in the right of away.
"Total signs picked up were 119….and that's not including the ones nailed to utility poles so high up I can't reach them," Johnson said.
All legal signs must have a permit. Temporary signs are not allowed, according to city regulations.
Although the city experienced a temporary problem with campaign signs during the November election, the current crop of illegal signs consists of commercial signs for real estate, weight loss, restaurants and other services, she said.
"It's gotten so bad. It's run amok. We're fixing to send out letters to all these businesses to remind them of the regulations," she said.
Also against regulations are large banner signs hung in front of car dealerships and other businesses. The banner signs are mounted on a frame. They're very difficult to take down, Johnson said.
The penalty for posting a sign without a permit is $50. Although the city could issue a $50 fine for every illegal sign, business owners with multiple violations are usually only fined for a single violation.
The signs that are picked up are stacked in a large pile behind the town hall. Handmade missing pet signs sat stacked next to professionally produced signs, including one for leaf removal.
Mike Brock, owner of Superior Landscaping, said he put out the leaf removal signs on Highway 321 to help advertise his business in a high traffic area.
"I saw other signs along the same stretch of road and I thought they were OK," he said.
Johnson said she usually holds signs for about five days before throwing them away.
"I know that these signs are expensive. We will let them come pick up their signs. Some of them will put the signs right back out on the road," she said.
"It's a cat-and-mouse game," she said.
Johnson said the city likes to help businesses whenever possible. As a codes enforcement officer, it can be a challenge to enforce the various regulations in the community while maintaining a service friendly relationship with businesses, she said.
"With the New Year I am hoping to reach out to business owners and ask for their help in keeping Lenoir City clean in 2013….especially as it relates to temporary signs along our roadways," she said.
Also on Johnson's radar are digital signs, which must conform to specific regulations for brightness and duration of the message.
There may be some confusion among business owners regarding the rules for temporary signs because of action the City Council took several years ago to ease regulations in light of the poor economy. In April 2011 the council voted to allow businesses to display a single temporary sign until — August 2011, Johnson said.
It's not fair for most businesses that follow the law to be put at a disadvantage by competitors who violate the law, she said.
Johnson said keeping track of the signs takes a lot of time away from other duties of her office, which include zoning, building permits and other issues.