“We had the right of first refusal.... But the thought was — and we talked to the land bank about it — it’s a huge liability; it’s expensive to tear it down, and our thought was there was nobody foolish enough to buy that property,” he said.
“And we were wrong,” Vanderhorst added.
“They sold it to someone. It burned. Now it just sits there, burned and falling down in the middle of one of our neighborhoods, and the state actually had it, and they sold it,” City Manager Joshua Smith told council. “The state should take care of it. Instead of pushing it back out again, they should say, ‘Hey, this is on us. We’re going to go ahead and get this taken care of. City, we’re not going to put this burden on your taxpayers.'”
Mayor Pat Moeller expressed disappointment in the state’s decision to sell: “They passed on the liability to a private entity, which may not even care about it. And then you end up having people sleeping in there, or someone dying in there.”
The city has to work on better engaging state officials on such issues, Smith said, “and how do we make them aware of these issues?” Smith said.
“If they own a property like that, we don’t need it going back out, and sitting like that for the next 10 years. Obviously, they have much more resources than we do in terms of demolition funds and other funds.”
The property is owned by Jason Dewayne Combs of 277 Starr Ave. in Hamilton, according to county auditor’s records, and he bought it in February. Attempts to contact Combs were not successful. Because the property was sold by the state, a government entity, the sale amount is not listed on the auditor’s site, in accordance with state law.
Hamilton Fire Chief Mark Mercer said the property has been sold three times in less than two years. The city recently approved legislation requiring owners of commercial and industrial properties to register with the fire department so officials know contact information for them and have ways to get inside the properties for inspections and during emergencies.
“We want them to be secured, we want them to have the grass mowed, the site maintained so it’s not just a dump,” Mercer said. “We get a local contact name so that if there’s a problem with a property, we can call them, and they can address it. And then they’ll need to be financially responsible for it."
Mercer said if the city has to spend a few hundred thousand dollars to tear down a dangerous building, that is money from the city’s general fund that cannot be used to pave a street, for example.
“So it’s really a big thing to the citizens — their income tax, their property tax, their business taxes, everything that goes into the general fund, some of that goes into the general fund gets allocated to building demolitions, and we just want those business owners, those building owners, property owners, to be responsive, to be liable for it.”
Mercer said the city will send a letter to the owner ordering him to register the building and secure it. If that doesn’t happen, the city has authority to cover windows and take other steps to do so and bill the owner through property tax liens.
“A big problem is just tracking down an owner, and saying, who’s going to take care of this property for you?” Mercer said. “They need to have that plan."
The former dairy building remains open to children and vandals. CONTRIBUTED