Sikeston's Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority is about to publish the first list of 35 homes in Sikeston scheduled for demolition. This newspaper was provided that list this week and it will appear in the newspaper as soon as possible, pending some last-minute decisions on the properties in question. The property owners were notified in writing this week.
Most of the properties - as expected - are located in the west and southwest end of our communities. One landlord owns four of these properties; two other property owners hold title to two houses each on the "hit list." All in all, the list provides an excellent starting point for the long-anticipated demolition of countless eyesores that have plagued Sikeston for far too long.
Let me voice one concern however over the process that will lead to the removal of these properties. There apparently remains a decision by the city and the LCRA on paying for the cost of these removals. As reported earlier this week, funds for the removal will not actually be in hand for quite some time because the sales tax approval that will fund this project does not actually begin collecting revenues for months. But LCRA has discussed ways to gain early financing in anticipation of the sales tax collections starting later this year.
Here's the rub. Let's say a property owner has allowed a house to fall into disrepair and thereby blighted the neighborhood. Let's say that house has been declared unfit and that LCRA has decided to acquire the property for removal.
Here's how I understand the process will unfold. This understanding comes from discussions this week with city and LCRA officials although I confess there are some detailed questions that remain unanswered at this point. It is this one central question however that must be resolved.
First, once the house is designated as blighted, the property owner will meet with the LCRA to negotiate a fair price for the structure. If no agreement can be reached, an independent third-party appraisal will be determined and, barring legal action I assume, that is the final price the LCRA will pay that property owner for the property in question. LCRA will then hold title and begin the process of removal.
But let's also say the removal of the structure costs the taxpayers $10,000. I argue - along with the LCRA officials I spoke with - that the property owner should remain responsible for that removal cost. Otherwise, we're providing a benefit to someone who we have already acknowledged has allowed that property to reach the point where action is required. So let's say the appraisal on a property is $8,000. And assuming the removal cost is $10,000, I argue that the property owner will owe the city the difference of $2,000. Everyone seems to agree with that philosophy though I fear there may be a movement in a different direction that could potentially allow that property owner to walk away from the property basically without paying anything. That, in my opinion, is not the approach approved by voters.
There may be instances where the property is appraised at $1,000, thus putting a $9,000 bill against the owner once the property is removed. In some cases, it may be impossible to collect that difference because the property owner may be an elderly, low-income resident. But believe me, the first list of homes includes some property owners with substantial financial resources and I am furious that some of these people will be allowed to walk away from their responsibility to this community since they are solely responsible for the problem in the first place.
If we, as a community, allow a property owner to give property free to the LCRA that effectively gives that property owner a free ride on the demolition costs, then we're wrong. That is unfair and would simply tell home owners that they can allow their homes to fall into disrepair and then have someone else take over the removal costs once that property has virtually no remaining value. That would establish a precedent that is unacceptable.