BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A move is underway to start holding property owners accountable for vacant buildings in the city.
At a workshop following Tuesday’s Fort Madison City Council meeting City Building Director Doug Krogmeier rolled out the basics of a proposed ordinance that would require city residents to register any vacant property within city limits.
The ordinance spelled out at what point the property would have to be registered and under what circumstances. It also proposed a fee schedule that Krogmeier said was not to generate funds for the city, but to cover the cost of the program.
“This is a new program that I’ve put together. It started in Detroit when car manufacturers went under and 40% of their stock was vacant. They had to do something to address that stock,” he said. “Many, many cities across the United States have addressed property the same way.
Krogmeier said there are about 50 vacant properties in the city right now that would be required to be registered.
Krogmeier said vacant properties become dilapidated and then become burdens as far as crime, police attention and even fire.
The ordinance would also require monthly inspection logs from the owners, and trigger an annual inspection by the city.
“Primarily, when something happens on the property I can go back and say where’s your log?” Krogmeier said.
He said it also encourages rehabilitation if owners have to take additional steps per the ordinance, they may go ahead and finish rehabilitating the property.
Registrations would be required for any property commercial, residential, or accessory buildings. If vacant for 90 days they need to be registered. If they are purchased they would need to be registered after 30 days, and then any foreclosures would be required to be on the city inventory.
Exceptions would include active remodels, estates in probate, which Krogmeier said he would like to see registered after 12 months, properties with improvements scheduled, homes for sale, snowbird properties, and properties with substantial damage with plans for correction.
Registration would include owner information as well as identifying any financial institution that holds a mortgage or loan. A plan of action for the property whether that includes demolition, rehabilitation or just leaving them vacant, would also be required.
Krogmeier said he would also include language that the property has insurance coverage with the city listed on the certificate, so if the insurance lapses the city is notified.
The fee structure is based on per-month charges for failures to comply starting at $50 for small accessory buildings. That fee increases with the size of the building with a maximum $1,000 monthly fines for 20+ family residential structures or 20,000 square foot commercial/mixed use buildings.
Annual fees for vacant buildings range from $10 for smaller accessory buildings up to $250 for larger buildings. The fees double the third year they are registered in the program, and then double again the fourth year.
Krogmeier said residents are allowed to keep their property on the register without improvements but they will continue to pay fees to the city
“That’s fine. It can stay in the program and they can pay each year, but it has to be registered in the program,” Krogmeier said.
City Councilman Bob Morawitz said the city needs to consider privacy issues. Morawitz said he owns several properties that are vacant but maintained.
“My biggest concern is non-commercial property requiring you to allow people on your property without a warrant. You have a right to privacy and that concerns me a little bit,” he said.
“I don’t necessarily want you wandering around looking at all my stuff. It’s really none of your business what’s in my property unless I’m violating a law. So I’m concerned about that… You come on my property you’re gonna need a warrant,” Morawitz said.
Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld said the inventory ordinance is a good step.
“Here’s what we do know.. our biggest risk to the city in terms of crime, fires and potential money back to our budget starts with dilapidated structures, and inventorying them is a good start,” Mohrfeld.
“It’s one piece of the pie, and there’s other pieces we have to deal with too,” Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker said.
Krogmeier said the city should do a couple public forums.
‘”If you don’t like it we can hold some public forums, and kill it, but I think to keep all these buildings from getting in the condition they are in, we have to do something to address it, and I think this is a good start.
Bowker said the language needs to be finished up before it’s brought before the public. But Krogmeier said getting public feedback is the next step because the bulk of the code is written.
“I can definitely show the nuts and bolts of the code so we can review it, but I think public forums would be the next step,” Krogmeier said.
“I like having an inventory. I think the fee scale should be slid up further, but like Rebecca said, it’s a piece of the puzzle,” Mohrfeld said.