Cleanup of dilapidated homes, junk and abandoned cars in yards and other items on properties that are a possible hazard will be brought to the forefront if Wilson County commissioners adopt a new resolution to take care of the problem.
Wilson County planning director Tom Brashear proposed the resolution Tuesday night to the Wilson County Planning and Zoning Committee. The committee members discussed the issue of everything from falling structures to needles on properties within the county.
The new resolution is to “provide regulatory standards for health and safety conditions of residential and nonresidential properties” within Wilson County. State law allows counties to make such rules and regulations that prevent dangerous conditions due to the dilapidated buildings, overgrown lots, junk and discarded materials in yards, overgrown yards and yards with abandoned cars.
The committee members discussed the matter for about an hour. They heard from residents who said they were fearful for their relatives’ and other’s lives due to homes and yards in disrepair.
“I think the thing that has shelved this is in the past is the unknown,” Brashear said. “For example, if you think of dilapidated structures, many of them are older. If you talk about the county taking the responsibility of knocking something down, they’ve really taken ownership of that issue and that cleanup. Once they do so, they’re going to be responsible for asbestos removal, lead abatement and those types of things.”
Brashear said it would be an “arduous process that gets to the point where you’re going to have to knock something down.” He said county attorney Mike Jennings would also probably have to be involved in the matter for each property.
“If you discover something in the matter of that cleanup process, it could cost a lot more than you anticipated,” he said. “That’s the only part I can see that’s bad about this. There are some parts I like because it gives us some extra teeth when if comes to motor vehicles and junk and debris. We have some of this language in the zoning ordinance, but this would be freestanding outside of the zoning ordinance.”
The cost and personnel for cleanup was an issue the committee discussed.
“We’re going to have to clean up [a current project] at little or no cost to the county with staff that I’m unaware of, or, have a fund in place to do that,” Brashear said.
Currently, the county, under the zoning ordinance, gives residents 30 days to clean up in the warmer months and 60 days over the winter, Jennings said. After that, the fine starts accumulating at $50 a day.
“We’ve always had success in getting it cleaned up and always put in there to the building inspector’s satisfaction,” Jennings said. “What I consider clean or what you consider clean is discretionary.
“A recent case concerned a property where drug activity took place, and there were needles and other paraphernalia in the home and the yard and was won by the county. During that case, the county told the judge they’d like to take the responsibility of cleaning the yard and removing the structure, but they wanted to take those costs and apply it as a lien against the property. If they sell it, they have to pay us off.”
Jennings said liens are good news, but the county may never get paid back. The bad news, he said, “is that Tom doesn’t have anything in his budget. We’d like to appropriate $25,000 to put in his budget to use for this and similar situations.”
The hope is, Jennings said, if the county cleans one property and places a lien against the home, others who need to clean their properties will do so in fear of fines via a lien.
Commissioner Kenny Reich said he liked the idea of the lien, but he wanted to do more.
“I have a problem with just a lien, because we may never get our money back,” he said. “If they ever sell this property, it’s not right to hold the taxpayers’ money waiting to get it back. We need to come up with a way we can add this on to their tax bill.”
Jennings said that would have to be done on the state level.
“I don’t want to do it with a lien,” Reich said. “We may never get our money back. We need to come up with a way to get our money back. On a lot of these, we’re not going to get our money back. We’re going to do it, and that’s going to be it.”
The committee voted to study the resolution for 30 days before it takes action on the matter. The committee will meet again Nov. 5 at 6 p.m. in conference room 1 at the Wilson County Courthouse.