City placing emphasis on property maintenance

Photo by Alan Warren, Messenger-Inquirer | awarren@messenger-inquirer.com Joe Sublett, City of Owensboro’s property maintenance code enforcer, stands in front of a home at 904 W. 11th St. on Tuesday that is set to be demolished.

For about 10 years, Joe Sublett operated as the city's lone full-time property maintenance code enforcement officer.

But with the city's emphasis on cleaning up blighted properties, it has hired a second full-time code inspector along with a part-time clerk to help field the numerous complaints the office receives.

According to Wayne Shelton, Owensboro public works director, the extra staffing has made an impact on decreasing the number of open complaints from 231 in June 2018 to 46 in July 2019.

"Property maintenance inspections and thus enforcement, can be described as reactive, responding to complaints more so than being proactive," said Shelton, whose office oversees property maintenance issues. "Complaints may be external, originating from outside, or internal, originating from within various departments or agencies."

Shelton added that complaints range from properties cluttered with junk and trash to dilapidated structures.

"…Complaints are really seasonal," Shelton said. "During what I call the growing season, the warm outdoor months, we'll see spikes in complaints such as tall grass and weeds."

Along with adding to its property maintenance staff, the city also increased the demolition budget from $63,078 in the 2018-19 fiscal year to $150,000 for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Those funds will be used to raze abandoned homes or ones deemed unsafe for occupants once they go through a lengthy legal process. The city contracts out the demolition work.

And with raising the demolition budget, the city has 15 structures scheduled to be razed this year as opposed to seven in 2018, six in 2017, four in 2016 and six in 2015.

One of the homes ready for demolition is at 904 W. 11th St. Tall grass and weeds have also taken over the yard.

Although the house appears ready to collapse on its own, an excavator is parked in front to take it down.

Sublett said the owner is deceased and the city will maintain the property to a limited degree once the home is removed.

"We found a homeless person in one of our homes before and it was scheduled to be demolished the next day," Sublett said. "Luckily somebody called about him in time."

Before a home can be placed on the demolition list, there is a legal process that can take years.

City Attorney Steve Lynn said properties proposed for demolition are usually brought to him first and then taken to the Property Maintenance Board. If the board agrees to raze a structure, a title search is done on the property to find the true owner.

"A lot of these have been abandoned for 10 or 20 years," Lynn said. "...We've got certain directions within the (state) statute; we have to attempt to contact everybody and put them on notice. Unless you come forward and want to make repairs to this property, we're going to take steps to demolish it."

Property maintenance complaints can be reported via the city of Owensboro's Facebook page or by calling City Action at 270-687-4444.

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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