This time of year as the weather begins to turn nice; thoughts turn to spring cleaning including cleaning up properties around town. This can be one of the most controversial topics cities can deal with in any given year. It truly can be a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation. As a conservative, I am really torn by this topic. Part of me believes that a government should keep their hands off and nose out of a person’s personal property. However the other part of me believes that a government should get involved in a situation to help keep the public protected from unsafe conditions such as potential pest harborage and dangerous materials (i.e. garbage, rusty/jagged iron, dilapidated buildings, etc.).
That being said, I as the Mayor of Monroe believe that in my capacity I need to err on the side of trying to work to keep our community a relatively safe and inviting environment for citizens/people of all ages. When a person chooses to live and or conduct business within the boundaries of a city with neighbors ‘right next door’, they in turn open themselves up to more scrutiny by said neighbors than someone who lives out in the open country. This does not mean that neighbors should go out of their way to be overly critical of someone else’s property and its condition in an attempt to wreak havoc and vengeance on a disliked neighbor. At the same time a credible level of cleanliness or orderliness about that person’s property is not an unrealistic expectation.
Laws/ordinances that date back for many decades exist on the books to help keep communities clean for a reason. Obviously, at some point people had concerns about these types of problems arising or existing in their communities and wanted to try to get a handle on these problems. Along those lines, I have directed our City Administrator/Economic Development Director, Matt Mardesen to work on getting properties cleaned up throughout our community.
There are a number of ways a city can attempt to clean up a property, which usually begins with a letter requesting clean up. If the nuisance continues, the next step is filing a municipal infraction against said property owner and going to court. Depending on the court order, typically the city can send a crew in to clean up the property and assess a lien against the property to cover the costs of cleanup. In some cases, Iowa law will allow cities to buy any tax liens against the property and clean it up and resell the property. No one way works for every situation and sometimes it is a combination of many to get the cleanup accomplished.
The property at 106 S. Monroe Street that was at the heart of the “Facts Revealed on Property City Proposed Buying” article from the Thursday, March 27, 2014 edition of the Monroe Legacy fell into the category of a combination of many attempts to get it cleaned up. When the Nuisance Abatement Letter yielded no compliance, the city moved forward with two municipal infractions. After two court dates where the defendant did not appear, there was no forward progress of clean up. When it became known that there were back taxes owed on said property, this became a way for the city to acquire the property, clean it up and resell it to potential buyers. This is not a frequent route chosen by our city. However, it was not an unreasonable attempt to remedy the problem of a property that was in need of cleaning up.
The article takes issue with the amount of $4600 the city would have had to pay on back taxes versus the $8200 actually paid by the new owner of the property in back taxes. After talking to the County Treasurer’s office to get to the bottom of this approximately $3600 difference, I was informed the city of Monroe would not have had to pay any interest accrued on the back taxes for 2011, 2012 & 2013 or any service fees. These fees and interest accounted for $2368.74. The other $1292 was actually taxes paid for this year (2014) and not back taxes as indicated in the article.
As far as the time frame of the purchase occurring on February 28th and the Council discussing the issue at the March 10th meeting, none of us at the table knew it had been purchased or there would have been no discussion on the matter. There can be some lag time between when a parcel is purchased and when it is formally recorded in the Recorder’s office. March 3rd seems to be the date the purchase of the property was officially recorded. Although this was a week before our regular council meeting, after 3 years of unpaid taxes, it was not unreasonable for anyone at the Council table to expect anything had changed by that point in time. The new owner of the property could have notified City Hall and it would have been removed from the agenda.
At the end of this whole affair, I would say that the city’s objectives to clean up the property were successful even if it happened in a different way than initially expected. The property is much cleaner, safer and more presentable than it was before and the city also recouped back taxes on the above property.
By Brian Briles