Taking out the trash

Friday, March 11, 2005

Like most small-town mayors, Scott City Mayor Tim Porch wants his city to grow. And in order to grow, he knows his town has to look nice to people and to businesses considering a move to the old railroad town.

"We want to attract business, attract residents," Porch said. "You can't do that when you drive in and see dumps everywhere. You have old homes in older neighborhoods, but there's no reason for them to look like a war zone."

With the help of the Scott City police and building inspector Rob Hodo, the mayor and the city council have decided to keep a vigilant watch for eyesores and dangerous structures.

"Enough is enough," Porch said. "We have plenty of people who keep their places nice and keep them within the guidelines. It is the law, period. We've had past councilmen that have had nuisance violations. It's just a complete nightmare."

Three properties have been recently condemned by the city for being structurally unsound, including the burned-out husk of a house that half stands at 115 Washington St. Its walls are gone, exposing the charred guts of the old house that burned last summer and still hasn't been demolished.

Two garages also have been condemned, including one at 1123 Pine St. The roof caved in soon after the current property owner bought the land, Hodo said. Now the city will tell the owner to clean it up before the city does.

"When it gets like this it just gets to be a safety hazard," said Hodo. "Ninety percent of what we do is safety oriented. If a kid got in there and got crushed, the city could be liable if we didn't do anything to get it torn down."

The city isn't just looking harder at dilapidated buildings. It also wants to put some muscle in the ordinance governing those eyesores and safety hazards. At its next council meeting March 21, council members are likely to pass a new ordinance giving the city more power to crack down on unfinished buildings -- those missing windows and siding -- and adding a provision that will help the city handle the cost of rehabilitating or tearing down condemned buildings.

"With this new ordinance we'll have some more authority to get after them and make the house look better," Porch said. "With this new ordinance we'll be able to write tickets, at least."

The problem of unfinished buildings is one the city currently has trouble regulating. Porch said there's a void between nuisance ordinances and condemnation ordinances that doesn't cover buildings that are unfinished past the time of their building permits, giving the city no power to ticket the owners.

A draft of the ordinance is still incomplete, so details will be aired at the council meeting.

"We've got several spots in town, and they're going to fall into this ordinance issue," Porch said.

Old, new rules

Scott City does have an ordinance dealing with structurally unsound buildings but has trouble making property owners pay for demolition or renovation.

Currently, if a property owner doesn't clean up a condemned building, the city has to spend its time and labor doing so. A tax lien is levied on the property. If the lien is unpaid after three years, the property is put up for sale at the county courthouse.

Under the new ordinance, that would change.

"Basically, the major impetus is it will require that insurance company proceeds from a fire-damaged property could be held in trust to ensure the building is brought up to standards and made safe," said city attorney Francis Siebert, who is drafting the ordinance.

Most of the condemned properties in Scott City are fire-damaged buildings that have just been left to rot by the owners, such as the house on Washington Street.

Help will also come from police chief Don Cobb, who has been appointed assistant building inspector. The title adds no money to Cobb's salary and won't increase his workload, Porch said. It will take away the need for Cobb to confer with Hodo to file paperwork on violations.

The police already look out for nuisance properties -- including dangerous structures, tall grass and junk cars -- on their patrols. Now they won't have to go through Hodo to get papers to serve.

There has always been a commitment to keeping the city clean on the part of the police force, Cobb said, but that has to be worked into the department's schedule, usually in the spring.

Cobb wants to be tough on nuisances, citing what he calls "the broken window philosophy." "If you let one window go, that turns into two, then four, then ten," he said. "Nuisance ordinances can make or break a city."

City officials stress that the problem isn't one of epidemic proportions, and most city residents keep their homes and yards in check.

For those repeat offenders who continue to be cited for nuisances, though, their dealings with the city may turn a bit harsher in the coming weeks and months.

"We'll give them one notice, then after that they'll get tickets," Porch said.

msanders@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 182


Defining dangerous buildings

* Those whose interior walls or other vertical structural members list, lean or buckle to a large extent.

* Those which, exclusive of the foundation, show 33 percent or more of damage or deterioration of the supporting member or members, 50 percent of damage or deterioration of the nonsupporting enclosing or outside walls or covering.

* Those that have unbalanced loads upon the floors or roofs or which have insufficient strength to be reasonably safe.

* Those that have been damaged by fire, wind or other causes so as to have become dangerous to safety and health.

* Those that have become so dilapidated, decayed, unsafe, unsanitary or which utterly fail to provide the amenities essential to decent living that they are unfit for human habitation.

* Those having light, air and sanitation facilities which are inadequate to protect the health, safety or general welfare of residents

* Those having inadequate facilities for escape in case of fire or other emergency or those having insufficient stairways, elevators, fire escapes.

* Those which have parts that may fall and injure property or people.

-- Scott City building code

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