Sometimes you just have to be prepared to do it yourself.
In August 2012, a policy change approved by the Rushville Unsafe Building Board under Mayor Mike Pavey’s administration paved the way for the city to become the ultimate do-it-yourselfers, when necessary. Fire Chief Chuck Jenkins had identified, as priorities, eight unsafe properties that needed to come down.
For years, the city has faced dwindling budgets to demolish unsafe structures and a growing problem of abandoned, unsafe houses that were both an eyesore affecting entire neighborhoods and a safety hazard.
The list of priorities far outweighed the available budget so creative solutions were needed.
The Unsafe Building Board voted unanimously in August 2012 to move forward on demolition and fines of $5,000 each on three abandoned properties in Rushville and for city employees to tear them down, if it could be safely done.
Owners had 10 days in which to appeal the decision. Owners of the three properties had not responded to city notices since 2008. Maintaining lawns and boarding up the properties had to be done by the city each year.
Street Department employees, with code enforcement officer Rushville Fire Department Chief Chuck Jenkins, tackled demolition of two of the properties and three quotes were sought in the demolition of the larger duplex structure. The properties demolished were a small two-story home at 815 West Ninth Street, a two-story duplex at 312 and 314 West Fifth Street and a two-story house that shows damage from an arson fire at 424 Cottage Avenue.
To date, Street Department workers have now, as do-it-yourselfers, removed three properties including the latest at 215 South Pearl Street. In addition, the city has worked with local contractor Owens Excavating for affordable help in removing two additional larger structures, a duplex at 312 and 314 W. Fifth Street and one at 424 North Harrison, with the city providing all the labor it could.
Owners of the properties at 343 East 10th Street and 602 East 11th Street have cooperated with the city’s request and removed the structures. At 602 East 11th, owners have also completed 90 percent of the cleanup and continue to work on removal.
Eight properties were initially placed on a priority list of unsafe structures and now these eight properties have been successfully removed through a creative combination of do-it-yourself city employee manpower, working with a local contractor and having owners step-up and tackle work themselves.
Mayor Pavey said, “We are proud of the cooperation between all parties. I think everyone came in with the right attitude, and I think that is important.”
“We’ve always had this problem as long as I’ve been at the fire department,” Chief Jenkins noted. “What we did different this time was I sat down with Gary Cameron from the Board of Works and Safety and Brian Conner from the City Council. We sat down and said look, we have this issue of unsafe buildings, and they were unsafe buildings. We need to address them so how can we do that? Well, we’ll do them through the Unsafe Building Law and see if we can get them torn down. We don’t have much money.”
Conner serves as the Council liaison to the Rushville Fire Department, which handles code enforcement under Chief Jenkins.
As an example, the city had to pay nearly $25,000 to have the former Doug’s Flowers building torn down and that project took a year to complete. That one project alone exceeds the annual budget to address unsafe buildings in Rushville. New cost-effective solutions were needed. The city has found answers through a new do-it-yourself attitude.
The early ideas for this approach sprung from the time of the Bostic administration, when city workers took on the tear-down of the former Carter Lanning building. Under the Pavey administration, the approach has now been fully embraced and a list of priorities identified last year are done and finished this year.
Progress is evident.
Jenkins is quick to recognize and thank the hard work of the city employees who have added these tough jobs to the ones that already fill their days.
“I can’t say enough about Jemmy Miller and Dan Hoover and Johnny Woods and those guys up there because to tear these buildings down, I mean, they’ve got to have some abilities, and they do,” he said.
Jenkins and Miller, the head of the street department, met and developed a list of which properties the city could tackle alone, one’s they needed to partner with a contractor on because of the size of the property, and which ones they could possibly get owner’s to step-up and tear down.
Collectively, the city has been able to finish, and in one remaining owner’s case now 90 percent finish, the eight properties that made the priority list last year.
All the costs incurred by the city to address these unsafe structures are placed as liens on these properties so when they are eventually sold that money must be repaid to the city.
Criteria used to prioritize the removal of an unsafe structure in the city are:
1. Does it meet the requirements under the Unsafe Building Law?
2. Have any of the portions of the structure collapsed?
3. How long has the structure been in this condition?
4. Can the structure be rehabilitated?
5. How large is the structure and any other variables (how close to other structures, basements.)
6. Can the city street department remove the structure or will it take a contractor to knock down the structure and the street department remove the debris?
Unsafe structures aren’t the city’s only problem when structures are abandoned.
“We have had a total of 203 cases so far this year,” Chief Jenkins said. “This number includes grass, unsafe and trash and rubbish. Of the 203 cases, 43 are grass related. Right now we are taking care of approximately 20 of the grass cases.”
Once the grass on a piece of property reaches a foot high, city policy allows employees to go in immediately and clean up and mow, and then notify the owners. Previously, weeks were lost and grass grew even taller when notices had to go in advance of the city’s stepping in. It created a safety hazard. The new policy helps keep the city ahead of the problem as much as possible, Jenkins said.
“I know the work we have gotten completed has made a positive impact on the affected neighborhoods,” Mayor Pavey added.
Oftentimes, just finding the current owner of a property that may be in foreclosure, recently bought by a bank or otherwise is in transfer, can slow the process to nearly a month, just to learn that the owner won’t claim notices. With the city’s new approach, now they can step in before a property becomes out of control.
Residents are encouraged to contact the mayor’s office if they notice a yard that has grown out of control, unsafe properties or other concerns in their neighborhoods. Complaints can be made anonymously.
Contact: Melissa Conrad @ 765-932-2222 x107