City cleanup of property hits snag

Chad Frey
The Kansan

A court ordered clean-up for minimum housing code violations hit a snag May 25 when bids for work on multiple properties came before the Newton City Commission. 

Bids for a city cleanup project at 400 W 10th came in at more than half the assessed value of the property, making the future unclear.

"The questionable one is 400 W 10th because the price to repair and clean up is $68,500," said Suzanne Loomis, director of public works for the city. "That seems to me extra high, and if you look at the value of the property on county records, it is more than 50 percent of the [value] of the property."

Only one contractor, ExCat Construction, submitted bids for the work on three different properties. Two of those were awarded May 25. 

Under city code, when the cleanup is more than 50 percent of the value, then the owner of the property is responsible for the removal or demolishment of the structure. 

"Typically we have taken care of of demolition when they have not paid their back taxes. We are able to come in and basically take ownership of the property and then take care of the demolition," Loomis said. "In this instance, the property owner has paid their taxes. We have tried, to no avail, to get ahold of the owner to take care of this issue."

Loomis said there was a potential buyer for the property, and the city attempted to connect that buyer with the owner. That attempt was unsuccessful. 

The total value of the property is $101,800, according to real estate records. The cost of requested repairs came to more than 67 percent of the value of the property. Requested repairs included roof repairs.

"There is a cost to repair," Loomis said. "It was not just boarding something up. There was some boarding up, but also repairs being done. ... It is a tough call. You have water coming in the roof and if you just board up, you have not done a repair, you are going to continue to have deteriroration of structure.  People were trying to get into, and have gotten into, kind of squatters, on the property." 

Also at issue for the city is how much funding is available for the work on all of the properties — and that the 10th street property on its own exceeds the funds available to the city. 

"There is also the issue that we have $58,000 in the demolition budget, and I don't want to think about where the money will come from," said Donaa Pfaff, financial planner for the city. 

The commission approved moving forward with the demolition and cleanup of the two other properties on the list —  505 E 7th St, and 127 Lakeview. 

"We are looking at $38,000 for the cleanup of the other two properties," Loomis said.  "... I cannot recommend, in go faith, that we move forward with repairs. ... Someone is going to have to get on the roof and deal with it or it will continue to deteriorate."

It was unclear where the city will go on the 10th street property. City staff will rebid the project, with less work designated to be done.

"My concern on this is even if you cut this in half and it is $34,000, at some point we are probably staring down the barrel of another $10,000 to demolish it down the road. You are still at $44,000 on this property for an owner that is unresponsive that you cannot get ahold of," said Richard Stinnett, mayor of the city of Newton."... I think staff really needs to get us some options and a timeline."  

On May 25 the city also received two bids for the demolition of 611 E. 8th, where the property is subject to a court ordered demolition for dangerous structure. When the city initially bid the project out, no bids were received. City staff is going to review the bids received May 25 to present to the commission at its next meeting.