Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 25, 2014

Washington councilor asks why city footing bill to demolish meth house

By DAVID HOTLE | Nov 08, 2013

WASHINGTON, Iowa (GTNS) – Why is the city of Washington responsible for removing a house condemned due to meth contamination?

Why isn’t it the responsibility of the owner or the bank that holds the mortgage?

These were questions Washington City Council member Bob Shellmyer posed to the city council Wednesday night during discussion of what the city should do with a rental house at 415 W. Madison St. The house was the site of a meth raid on March 18. The house has been declared unsafe since then due to meth contamination. City administrator Brent Hinson said that the choices were to have the meth abated or to demolish the house. Both choices would cost about $15,000. He said that the cost to abate the meth would not include rehabilitating the house. City workers recommended demolishing the house and selling the bare lot.

“We don’t own the property,” Shellmyer said. “Why doesn’t the property owner do that and if the original property owner doesn’t do it, why shouldn’t the bank do it? When they made a contract with the original owner they made it as a business agreement with a profit in mind. Now, the whole thing has gone south and we are going to ask for people from Ward 3 to bail them out? I don’t think so.”

The council approved demolishing the building with a unanimous decision.

Hinson said a local bank owned the mortgage and had indicated it would work with the city to remove the house.

Shellmyer said the city now has about five properties around town and none have “for sale” signs on them. Hinson said that at this point there is no realtor trying to sell the homes for the city.

City Attorney Craig Arbuckle said the problem is the consequence for the owner and the bank is financial loss, and the consequence for the city is to have an unsightly piece of property. Hinson said the city has adopted the policy that if the city receives a property needing to be remediated, that getting the property back on the tax rolls would repay the city for the demolition. He said currently the tax value of the property is nothing.

Shellmyer said that his point is that the city keeps spending money on properties, then never doing anything with them. He said the lien holder is responsible for the demolition and can legally go after the original buyer for the cost.

“There is nobody who really cares,” Arbuckle said. “The law doesn’t have any tools. Once they give up their equity – their investment – there is nothing we can really do to them until they make it a crime to allow this to happen.”

Hinson said the city is a “buyer of last resort.” He said the city would suffer some initial financial damage. He said that if the properties are redeveloped, they will pay the city back with tax revenues. Shellmyer said that nothing is being done to redevelop the properties.

Council member Fred Stark said that he supported demolishing the building.

“Any time you can remove an eyesore or something that is not going to be habitable, it is better to level it and possibly put a new building in there,” he said.

Mayor Sandra Johnson asked if city employees could do the demolition work on the residence as a cost savings. Hinson said he would prefer city employees not, due to the meth hazard.

In other business, the council:

• approved an option agreement with the Washington Community Y for 5 acres of city property, even after two people spoke against the city entering the agreement at the public hearing;

• Approved a request to hold the annual Jingle Bell Run;

• Discussed sample rental inspection ordinances and agreed to model Washington’s ordinance on two existing ordinances;

• Approved the purchase of a dump truck for $15,500.

• approved an ordinance establishing a Neighborhood Pride Enhancement Committee with the only change in the proposed ordinance being a request for the committee to report semiannually;

• approved a resolution moving the Jan. 1, 2014, meeting to Jan. 2; and

• tabled an ordinance amending Code of Ordinances on the airport commission.

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