Resolving blighted properties: Action costs money

The Warren County Redevelopment Authority has a series of blighted structures that it is working towards resolving – whether that means demolition or any other outcome.

But, in this case, action costs money.

And the RDA doesn’t have it.

So what can be done?

That was the focus of Tuesday’s meeting.

The issue came up in the context of a property in Sheffield where the RDA holds conservatorship – 114 and 116 W. Main St.

Sheffield Township sent a stern letter to the RDA requesting payment – without specifying an amount – for boarding up the property.

“We don’t have any physical funds at all to work with,” RDA Chairman Chuck Barone said. “We have a lot of legal fees Sheffield is not reimbursing us for.”

Barone also criticized the commissioners for not implementing a fee on deed transfers that would raise funds to fight blight.

According to the Department of Community and Economic Development, Act 152 of 2016 “allows the governing body of any county to adopt a resolution or an ordinance that authorizes the recorder of deeds to charge and collect an additional fee not to exceed $15 for each deed and mortgage recorded. The fee must be deposited in a county demolition fund and used exclusively for the demolition of blighted property in the county.”

The RDA’s current sources of funds is federal Community Development Block Grant funds.

Laurie Burdick, secretary in the county’s Planning & Zoning office, told the RDA that the total was about $16,000, per Grants Administrator Lorri Dunlap.

Burdick noted, though, that approximately $10,000 has been set aside for a demolition in Clarendon – which the RDA approved – leaving about $6,000 for the RDA to work with.

“Then why do we have this board,” Barone asked. “The county needs to allocate more of its CDBG money to the RDA,” noting the cost for one demolition is in the realm of $16,000 to $18,000.

“There’s a limit on how much we can put towards this,” Dunlap said, indicating that 30 percent of the allocation can be used to combat blight.

She spoke about potentially looking to change the process to result in townships having some “skin in the game” when they turn over blighted properties to the county.

“The real issue, there may be a circumstance where nothing happens at all for a year then we have two or three properties that need demolished at one time,” RDA member Jamie Steffan said.

“Prioritize,” Dunlap said. “What if we charged an application fee… for each property submitted (by a) municipality?”

“Then maybe they’ll start looking at the maintenance code,” architect Donna Zariczny, who has contracted with the RDA, said. “There are buildings that truly need to be dealt with.”

Dunlap said she has been “hounded year after year and quarter after quarter” about CDBG money that “we are spending… so slowly.”

She said that Burdick is current doing a study on what the county typically spends on a blighted property.

Barone asked about the fee idea and Dunlap said she wasn’t sure of the mechanism but said she would look into it further.

“You’re kind of your own little entity.”

“But we don’t have power to do anything,’ Barone said.

Dunlap said that the conservatorship process is, according to DCED, not appropriate for spot blight.

“From where I’m sitting, (it) has been used too frequently…. I would just see it rather not jumped on so quickly. I appreciate the teeth conservatorship gives. But it’s pricey teeth.”

The RDA elected to wait until Burdick completes her study into the average cost of a blighted property to the county before moving ahead with anything in particular.

Dunlap noted that in six months she has spent $11,000 all for professional services and added that the state could come back and ask why demolitions aren’t occurring.

She told the RDA there will be a CDBG application period this fall where the RDA can ask for the 30 percent allocation and also recommended the RDA craft a letter to the commissioners regarding the Act 152 funding stream.