Thursday, June 11, 2009
City focuses on property cleanup
By SUE WATSON
The city of Holly Springs continues to push lot owners to clean up condemned structures and sites deemed a danger to the public health and welfare.
Zoning administrator Felicia Autry recommended and the board approved taking quotes for a lot cleanup on Rising Star Road - a situation of a burned-out house. She asked the board to continue watching the cleanup of the old compress building which is falling in.
Autry said no action is required on that cleanup because the owner is making efforts to clear the property. The owner is salvaging wood from the inside of the compress, she said.
A third site on North Memphis Street - two lots owned by Donald Street - is under a circuit court order to remove old vehicles and parts. The board entertained a quote from G.S. Contracting and pondered how to handle the matter so the city gets repaid and that Street is treated fairly.
At issue was who would benefit from the sale of the scrap iron.
“Does the cleanup man get it?” asked alderman Nancy Hutchens.
“In my mind it goes to the owner,” advised attorney Ki Jones, who said state law allows a city to pay up to $20,000 per lot for cleanup but does not allow it to make money on the sale of materials removed from a lot.
“So, next January about $44,000 will be assessed to his (Street’s) taxes if he doesn’t go to the tax sale?” Hutchens asked. “The city would get the money if the property is sold for taxes?”
Mayor Andre’ DeBerry asked Jones if the city could pay the contractor who cleans up the lots out of money earned at the junk yard for scrap iron.
Jones replied that the law stipulates how much a city can pay to have a lot cleaned up or the city can do the cleanup using its own resources.
“Where does the scrap money go?” the mayor asked.
“In my mind, to the owner of the property,” said Jones.
“That dog don’t hunt,” DeBerry said.
“If the cleanup contractor gets any of that, that’s fine,” said Jones.
“I have a serious problem turning the money over to the hauler and paying him, too,” DeBerry said. “The city gets money back at the tax sale. We were all under the impression the proceeds from the scrap would go to the city to pay for it and the rest would go to the property owner.”
Jones said the city’s interest in the cleanup is “having a decent looking city.”
“The city can’t get into the business of cleaning up property,” DeBerry said. “The cleanup (costs) will be higher on some other properties on Randolph.”
“We can pay to have it done and put a lien on the property or we can do it ourselves and assess the owner,” Jones said.
“I can’t see any realistic way to take property off and sell it and give the money to the owners,” DeBerry said. “We are not budgeted to pay for it.”
Jones said he “is sure there was some reclamation” of value by a contractor who just demolished a house on Randolph.
“But there is a difference,” the mayor said. “The property owner did not make money off the cleanup.”
“So, we would enter into a contract with a man and we would say whatever he gets from scrap iron goes against his fee (charged) to the city?” asked alderman Nancy Hutchens.
Michael Crittle with G.S. Construction was asked to join the discussion.
“We address our proposal based on the order given by the court,” Crittle said.
“If you take it to sell scrap iron, you get the $44,000 plus the money from the scrap iron?” Hutchens asked.
“As of now, but it can be specified (in the contract),” Crittle said.
“You have no problem with your payment coming out of the proceeds?” asked the mayor.
“I just want to get paid,” Crittle said.
DeBerry said he “does not want the city to be out $44,000 - wants to make sure it doesn’t cost the city.”
“The city wants its $44.000 and he can have the rest of it,” Hutchens said.
“I know we have some responsibility to the property owner,” DeBerry said. “I want to make sure we have not harmed the property owner. I just want the property cleaned up. I do not think the city has a right to confiscate the entire property.”
“Our contract ought to be just to cover our costs,” Hutchens said.
“I think the city has the right to secure what it costs to get out of there,” DeBerry said.
He asked Jones how long it would take to draw up a contract.
“By next week,” said Jones.
“No, before next week,” DeBerry said. “We will do a called meeting. I do not intend for the next board to have to deal with this issue.”
“And the owner (Street) has the right to haul everything off himself next week and have a clean lot,” Hutchens said.
“He’s had seven or eight years to do this himself,” DeBerry said.
Hutchens added that her only concern is that the city handle lot cleanup fairly and consistently.
She said the recovery of items of value when an old house is demolished - fixtures or furniture - have gone to the contractor for the cleanup.
“It is the same apple,” she said. “Just the scale is different.”
Jones suggested the contract with G.S. Construction could be contingent on the city getting credit for the cost of the cleanup with the salvage value going to the owner.
“It’s between him and Donald Street,” Hutchens said.
“I think the attorney has to know the intent of the board before drawing up a contract,” DeBerry said. “We need to give him a flavor (of what the board wants in the contract).”
“And if the flavor is not legal?” asked alderman Russell Johnson.
“We want our $44,000 back and a clean property,” Hutchens said.
The board of aldermen and mayor surveyed the two lots on North Memphis Street and found that Street had made a good measure of progress already on cleanup of the two lots, according to Hutchens. She said aldermen worked with Street to select a list of items that he could not remove that the board will negotiate with a contractor to remove from the property. A contract was expected to be signed Wednesday, she said.
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