In 2016, the city created the Dangerous and Dilapidated (D&D) Building Program to begin addressing a number of abandoned properties. These properties were creating nuisances and eyesores in neighborhoods across the community, leading to public safety issues and more. The city borrowed money to fund the program, and that funding has been used to help tear down 24 homes to date. As we enter the fifth year of the program, I wanted to share what happens behind the scenes.
The city becomes aware of dangerous, abandoned properties in a few ways. The first is through a neighbor or concerned citizen reporting it to our code enforcement inspector by calling 641-754-5759 or filling out a form on www.marshalltown-ia.gov. The code enforcement inspector, police officers or other city staff also identify properties with tall grass, snow-covered sidewalks or other nuisance violations. Through the nuisance abatement process, we tend to learn if a property is abandoned.
When a property has been determined to be abandoned and a neighborhood nuisance, the city then starts the notification process to the owners. When there is not a response from an owner, the city can move forward with an action to have the property declared abandoned through the court system. This legal process might take additional time, but it can result in a judge awarding a clean title to the property to the city. Oftentimes, abandoned properties are saddled with financial liens that typically do not go away unless paid. If the city did not go to court with these properties, we could still demolish them. However, we would end up with vacant lots that would likely never be redeveloped due to financial liens not being resolved, and continued special assessments with the city performing on-going mowing and snow removal.
Once the city has acquired a property, we have a few more tasks to complete before getting a contractor to complete the work. All utilities have to be disconnected, which often involves digging into the street and limits the time of year when that work can be completed. We also have a contractor come in to test for asbestos, if the property is safe to enter. Once we have those items, we can put out a bid for the work and hire a contractor.
In most cases, the city becomes the owner of a vacant lot following demolition. Our ultimate goal is to sell each of these lots in order to get them back on the tax rolls and provide useful value to the neighborhood once again. Since 2016, we have 43 percent of the lots we have acquired, with sale proceeds going directly to support the continued work in the D&D program.
As we start the fifth year of the program, it appears that we will be demolishing more properties than we have in prior years. Many of the tornado-damaged homes and buildings are in legal processes that will be resolved in 2021. While we often have more properties to work with than we have resources, we do encourage residents to report these properties at the phone number and email address above. It takes all of us working together to help eliminate blight and dangerous buildings and make our neighborhoods the safe, livable places we want them to be.
Jessica Kinser is the city administrator
for the City of Marshalltown.