BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – A Keokuk resident told Lee County Supervisors he wants his taxes forgiven on dilapidated property he purchased in June.
Dan Winn, a former city councilman and mayoral candidate in Keokuk, told supervisors he purchased a lot next to his home because the structure was in disrepair and had alleged squatters and drug use taking place inside. Winn said he’d like the taxes forgiven on that property because the board, at its meeting last week, forgave taxes on about 12 properties the city had purchased for the same reason.
“Basically what I’m asking the board for is to give me the same consideration the city received for tax abatement on 12 properties,” Winn said.
“I was just wondering if I could have the taxes forgiven on the property since I abated that myself.”
Winn said he spent $9,500 to have the property improved and now it’s his tax responsibility, but the city is doing the same thing and having its tax bill forgiven.
Supervisor Ron Fedler said the county had no choice but to approve the abatement under state law.
“The situation we ran into with abating on that property is it was governed under state law, where if the municipality requests the abatement, state code says we “shall” do it, it doesn’t say we “may”,” Fedler told Winn. “But it only covers municipalities, it doesn’t cover business or industry, so we had no choice.”
Fedler said he understands the frustration of the property owners.
Winn said the city was going to probably end up with the property one way or another, but said he decided to purchase the property and clean it up himself.
“Well, when I read this, I talked to (Supervisor) Matt (Pflug) about it and I said it looked to me like this is going to open up a can of worms, because people like me are going to say ‘What about me?’. There’s other people that have done the same thing.”
Winn said former City Administrator Aaron Burnett increased the amount of money Keokuk is using to acquire abandoned properties. The city wants to get them down and the lot cleaned up so private investment can come in and get it back on the tax rolls. But Winn said this precedent is going to cost the county.
“There’s a whole lot more properties now that the city is going to eventually acquire, and every one of those is going to get the taxes forgiven, and the county’s going to take a hit over the next few years,” Winn said.
Pflug said his concern was now the city isn’t being aggressive enough going after the property owners to get properties cleaned up.
“My concern is that is the city being aggressive in going after the property owners to get these cleaned up, or are they just rolling over and assuming the properties,” Pflug said. “It just seems like this thing could become an epidemic going forward.”
Ron Fedler said residents could talk to the city about abating the city tax as an incentive to buy and clean up properties.
“Another thing is to talk to the city about abating the city tax, and help residents to do the same thing the city’s doing and give an incentive to do it,” he said. “We have no control over the city tax, but that might be something you might want to approach the mayor and city council about.”
Supervisors approved the abatement of 12 properties at its Sept. 18 meeting. That abatement took $21,500 away from potential county revenues.
“We and the board really had no choice,” Fedler said. “The statute (Lee County Attorney) Ross Braden outlined showed that we had to abate those properties.”
After the meeting, Wynn said he wasn’t really expecting the board to abate the taxes on the property, but brought it up to prove a point.
“I knew the city might get the property eventually, but it could’ve sat there for another five years and who knows what could happen in there in five years. So we took it upon ourselves. But now, other people might wait, or check with the city to see if it’s on their radar, and if the city says ‘yeah we’re gonna tear it down’, they’re not going to buy that. Once you buy it you assume all the responsibility for it.”
In other action, the board:
• voted 5-0 to appoint Tammy Hudson to the Lee County Board of Health through Jan. 1, 2020.
• voted 5-0 to continue to give a $10,000 annual contribution to the Great River Housing Trust Fund.
• voted 5-0 to approve building a dividing wall at the South Lee County Courthouse to provide additional office space to the Lee County Attorney’s staff.
• voted 5-0 to proclaim October as National Voter Registration Month.
• discussed issuing a budget amendment to help with additional maintenance costs at both courthouses, but took no action.