BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The daughter of a property owner in the 900 block of 15th Street is asking for the city’s help in cleaning up the former Town & Country Mobile Home Park in the same block.
Suzanna Overberg, of rural West Point, approached the Fort Madison City Council on Sept. 4 and asked city officials to take a look at the property and see what can be done.
At the meeting, Overberg said, at present, there are only a few homes on the block that are fit to still be standing. Her mother, Dixie Riley, lives on the block as well and Overberg said she fears for her mother’s safety while holding back emotions as she spoke to the council.
“The main point is this long-time property taxpayer in Fort Madison, in her retirement years, should not have to endure this atrocity in her city,” Overberg said to the council.
Overberg said the trailer park behind the property is in shambles with all utilities disconnected. She said the sheet metal shop has windows broken out and has people going in and out of the property.
Her parents spent $5,000 on a privacy fence, but Overberg said additional fencing was not allowed by city code.
Mayor Brad Randolph told her that he’d like her to sit with City Building Director Doug Krogmeier after the meeting. Councilman Bob Morawitz, who represents the city’s second ward that includes the neighborhood, as well as City Councilman Chris Greenwald offered to sit in on the meeting. Greenwald asked City Manager David Varley and Police Chief Tim Sittig to sit in on the meeting as well.
Overberg said she was disappointed in what she heard from the meeting and was told by Varley that the city had only about $30,000 per year to deal with dilapidated buildings and properties. She said no one from the city has been out to observe the property and neighborhood since she spoke at the council meeting.
She said her father, Tom, who is deceased now, had approached Greenwald about seven years ago about the deteriorating condition of the neighborhood and nothing was done.
Several of the homes in the area are uninhabited and also in disrepair along the 1400 block of Avenue I. Dixie Riley, Overberg’s mother, said some of the homeowners on the block are doing some repairs, but most are uninhabitable.
The former mobile home park has several trailers on the lot that are crumbling and overgrown with grass and brush. One mobile home has the lawn mowed and seems to be in decent care, but Overberg said utilities are not active in the park.
Krogmeier said the city doesn’t have the resources to handle the issue at this point.
“It’s on our list, but the city just doesn’t have the money in the budget to do anything,” Krogmeier said. “We’ll go over and board it up but that’s about all we can do right now.”
Currently, Lee County holds a certificate on the mobile home park and the former sheet metal building. According to the Lee County Treasurer’s office, taxes haven’t been paid on the property in four years and it could go to a tax sale when the Lee County Attorney’s office gets it on the schedule.
Krogmeier said sometimes that can take years or the county can hold a certificate indefinitely.
The property, according to Beacon Schneider’s Lee County website, is owned by Jed Aaron Hill, previously of Keokuk. Hill entered into a contract with Robert and Zella Kramer of Fort Madison to sell the property for $105,000 in 2008. Hill purchased the deeds to the properties for $96,400 in 2007. Phone calls to the Kramer’s went unreturned Wednesday and attempts to locate Hill were unsuccessful.
Sittig said requests for police reports in the area without specific names, dates, and addresses would be difficult and time consuming.
Overberg said she’s looking to have the neighborhood cleaned up so it’s safer for her mother.
“A good resolution is I want the neighborhood safe,” she said. “I want the sheet metal building taken down or boarded up so no one can get in and out of there, taken down is the only solution that would be permanent. And I want the squatters out of the trailer park and these homes.”
Overberg said her mother is probably safe in her home, but the garage had been broken into and some tools were taken out of it.
“We had the police down here and they said there’s a lot of that going on.” Riley said.
She will probably be safe in her locked house, but how do we know someone is not going to fly off the handle and decide that old woman is there and I’m just going to walk in and take what I want. It’s all she’s got and we don’t want to sell it and move her somewhere.
Krogmeier said the city recently had to write off the costs of taking down the building on the southwest corner of Avenue H and 12th Street last year and has another building downtown that is priority, along with a list of other properties in the area the buildings department is checking on.
A homeless man in the area who identified himself as Josh Corcoran said he was staying in the home next to Riley, but wasn’t definitive about having permission to live in the home. He said he had permission from previous owners to scrap metal out of the sheet metal building. But said he hasn’t taken anything out of the homes.
“Bob and Zella gave me permission to go in there. I’ve made a thousand dollars out of there. But there’s a lot of people going in and out of that old building,” he said. “People just walking through here… It’s spooky back in there, I’ll tell you that.”
Overberg, whose husband walked through the building, said the building has empty antifreeze bottles and condoms scattered throughout.
“This is about the vandalism and the people that go in and out of these buildings next to my mom. Lord only knows what they are doing in there. As terrible as it sounds, there’s a sofa in there with used condoms on it…in a building like that, they have to be under the influence of something.”