City wants to tear down 6 more buildings

SALEM — The city administration is making moves to possibly tear down at least six blighted properties that may not meet the criteria for the local land bank, but can be condemned and demolished by the city at the owner’s expense either up front or as a tax assessment.

Mayor John Berlin explained Wednesday that the city has the ability to take action through the city housing code, giving a property owner 30 days after the notice about a property being condemned to demolish the property. If the owner fails to demolish the structure, then the city can take action.

If the owner fails to pay the cost of the demolition, the city will certify the cost as a special assessment on the property taxes.

“Unless we take action, I don’t know what else we’re going to do. We can’t just let them sit there forever,” Berlin said.

He started exploring options in late July after learning about a vacant house on East Fourth Street which had a partial roof collapse into the structure and a wall leaning toward an alley. The fire department barricaded the area and closed the section of alley next to the house on July 23 due to safety concerns after being contacted by Planning & Zoning Officer Chip Hank.

Hank had first noticed the house last fall and issued a notice for vacant structure registration, but received no response from the listed property owner. During a check of the residence in July, he noticed there was more damage and he could see sky through one of the windows, prompting him to contact the fire department.

Berlin learned the house had already been identified as a problem and condemned. Then he learned from city housing inspector Dan Rice that there were at least six houses in the city, including that one, that were at the point to be condemned and demolished. So he started exploring the city’s option for demolition.

“We can pursue remedies, if nothing else, for the neighbors of these homes,” Berlin said.

The six homes already posted with demolition placards are located on East Fourth Street, Court Street off of Pershing, South Union Avenue, Rose Avenue, South Lincoln Avenue and West Wilson Street. New demolition placards declaring the homes as unsafe and condemned and giving owners 30 days to demolish them will be put in place. Letters also will be sent to the owners as listed on property records. In one case, the mayor noted that the taxes on the property were being paid by a company known as Tax Ease.

So the taxes were being covered, but “we’re not happy with the property sitting in its damaged condition,” he said.

Others have delinquent taxes owed and a couple are in foreclosure.

At the city council meeting, Councilman Geoff Goll asked about an email he received from Berlin and Rice regarding the six houses and the intentions to demolish them, questioning whether the owners could turn them over to the Columbiana County land bank for the land bank to bear the expense of demolition. Berlin explained that if there are no liens or back taxes owed, then the property owner can willingly turn over the property, but the land bank has certain criteria that must be met and that includes no liens or back taxes.

“These are properties that have been nuisances for quite some time,” he said, adding there’s no chance they’ll be going through sheriff sale in the near future.

When asked about the possible cost, City Service/Safety Director Ken Kenst gave an estimate of $5,000 per house but stressed there’s no way of knowing for sure until getting a contractor. According to both Kenst and Berlin, the money is already available in the capital fund to demolish the homes.