SIDNEY — The city of Sidney’s vacant property registration program is a step closer to being realized.
A draft of the vacant property registration regulations was presented Monday to Sidney City Council by Vacant Property Inspector Kyle Havenar.
The program was initiated last year for dealing with the city’s problem of abandoned and vacant properties around town.
Havenar’s first day on the job in the newly created position was two months ago. When introducing Havenar to council, Community Development Director Barbara Dulworth said his first 90 days on the job will being spent familiarizing himself with Sidney and working on regulations, policies, procedures, and data collection for the vacant property registry.
Havenar presented the draft of the standards for Sidney’s future program for minimizing neighborhood blight after working with Dulworth and Law Director Jeff Amick, as well as reviewing other communities’ existing registration programs since April. However, several council members questioned the definition of what constitutes a vacant property/establishes occupancy for residences and businesses.
The consensus of a few council members was that the definition was “vague.” Members offered several examples of when a property could sit empty for a time, from long vacations or trips, illness or sudden physical disabilities, and questioned if these situations could qualify as a vacant property.
Council member Joe Ratermann asked Havenar to research other communities’ threshold for the amount of time a industrial and commercial businesses could sit without operations being conducted. Vice Mayor Mardie Milligan also expressed concern that if an owner was out of town for an extended period of time and registered their property, that information would be public record.
Staff members pointed out that there is a lot of “grey areas” but that as long as the property owner maintains the up-keep of the property, more than likely no one would be aware it was not being occupied. Dulworth said the property owner could apply to be considered exempt if their situation appeared to be within one of those grey areas.
Milligan and Council member Darryl Thurber also took issue with government owned properties being included in the list of proposed exemptions from the registration requirements. They felt the government should be held to the same standards as the general public.
Amick said the main reason government property is included is because it is tax exempt and therefore is not a practical mechanism by which to collect. He said even though it is a registration fee and not a tax, it would still be assessed through the tax assessment process. Dulworth said she hopes there wouldn’t be an issue with a local, state or federally owned property not being maintaining in the first place.
Mayor Mike Barhorst posed the question of how this program would force abandoned property owners, like the Wagner building on Fair Road, for example, to do anything. Dulworth said the program will do nothing to a place like the Wagner building and that it will only add to the fees assessed to the property. She said overtime the additional fees assessed to other abandoned locations, however, could climb to the point where the county could begin tax foreclosure proceedings.
After listening to the information and discussion, Fire Chief Brad Jones noted that the vacant property registration program is to prevent other properties from getting to the point of a property like the Wagner building. He said if a house is that far gone, it is beyond rehabilitation, but that there are over a dozen other homes in Sidney that are not at that point yet, but could get to that point.
“This isn’t an opportunity to tear houses down. This is an opportunity to rehab houses,” Jones said. “That’s why there is incentive built into (the program). … Every dime you pay, you’re going to get back. The objective of the program is take the houses, in either a residential house or a business, and flip it so now it is a livable or usable space. … And it’s not designed for Mrs. Smith who is staying in the nursing home for the next six months. She is still going to be having someone mowing her yard; the windows aren’t going to be broken out of her house. That stuff is going to be taken care of.”
Amick said part of the goal is establishing a contact person so they know what is happening with an empty building.
“As the chief said, our intent in not to try to condemn a house that doesn’t seem to have anybody living there, it’s to try to make sure that if we do have a situation that is fluid, we got somebody we can talk to and try to deal with it, and if not, amp it up a little bit and try to move forward,” Amick said.
The vacant property registration program is scheduled to return to council for further consideration at the June 25 regular council meeting.
In other business, council members and attendees of Monday’s City Council meeting sang “Happy Birthday“ to Barhorst after Thurber presented him with a “Big Dill Award.”
“(Someone) kinda near and dear to our heart. And every once in a while we want to thank them for the magnificent job that they do, and besides that, this happens to be this young man’s birthday. So we thought today we would get together and present to you the ‘Order of the Big Dill,’” Thurber said in jest to Barhorst who tends to “drop jaws and knock socks off” as the award read.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.