BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A proposed ordinance that would require property owners to register vacant buildings in the city met with some opposition from a group attending a public hearing Wednesday night.
The hearing was called by city officials to have communication with property owners about the new program.
The ordinance takes a look at what a vacant property is, when it would have to be registered, and under what circumstances. A proposed fee schedule is also included in the proposal.
Fort Madison Building Director Doug Krogmeier said the program was not to generate funds for the city, but to cover the cost of the program.
He said there are about 400 vacant properties in the city and there are 50 that need to be demolished right now at a cost of just under $1 million.
“We already know those properties. We’ve already got those properties that people aren’t going to take care of and we’re going to take them to court with the other process,” Krogmeier said.
“It’s not those, it’s those that are almost there. We want to make sure if somebody moved out, who’s maintaining it. If you’re not going to maintain it, do something with it. Krogmeier said.
Several in attendance suggested the move was a money grab by the city.
Darrell Davolt, a property owner in the city got after Krogmeier immediately and said the city could save money by eliminating Krogmeier’s position and let Fire Chief Joey Herren do the job.
“Don’t handcuff us with this big money and inspections and stuff. I don’t need you in my property.” Davolt said.
Larry Haynes, a rural Donnellson resident, said the city will make more off a dilapidated structure on the tax rolls than not having the structure.
“You’re gonna make more tax base off a crappy building than you are off an empty lot,” Haynes said.
Fort Madison Mayor Matt Mohrfeld said the city has to do something to remove the blight and keep the city from shouldering the burden of mitigating dilapidated structures, for what Herren called absentee ownership.
“From a management standpoint, you have to do something,” he said.
Davolt responded that the city didn’t need to do anything all all.
“If you say, “Not at all”, am I supposed to let the town go to s**t,” Mohrfeld said.
“One thing I want everyone to be sensitive to, with all due respect to those that disagree with me, but sitting here looking at trying to improve the curb appeal and quality of life and quality of housing stock in Fort Madison. You can’t ignore 400 vacant properties.”
The city is considering an adjustment to the proposal that if property owners have insurance on the property they wouldn’t have to pay the fees, but would still be required to register the property.
Under Iowa law, Herren said insurance companies have to hold back $20,000 on policies to cover city responsibility for cleaning up the property if it caught fire or was damaged and the ownership abandons the property.
Mohrfeld said doing nothing is letting a cancer spread in the city.
“Bad properties are a cancer, they are a blight to a neighborhood and we all know that. We can see bad properties bring neighborhoods down much quicker.”
Davolt told Mohrfeld he already had his mind made up.
“I certainly have a thought process about it,” Mohrfeld said.
Mohrfeld said he wanted input to getting the city’s dilapidated structures cleaned up, and not just opposition.
Haynes pushed city officials on definitions about vacancy and what constitutes vacant. He asked the city take the word vacant off the proposed ordinance and just call it a dilapidated property ordinance.
Fort Madison resident Kelly Mahoney supported the new program saying she feared for her safety in her neighborhood.
‘I live in fear of some of these houses and they need to be gone,” Mahoney said.
“I can’t go in my back yard after dark because there are too many raccoons because of these empty houses across the alley. There are totally stripped out of copper and everything from squatters,” Mahoney said.
She said neighbors take turn watching the alley at night because of squatter activity.
Herren said the city would take the suggestions from the group back and consider them as the ordinance comes together. He said the city would hold another hearing on the ordinance before it goes to the council for a vote.
Any ordinance requires three readings by the council before approval.