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City working on appearance

On Monday night the Ironton City Council Finance Committee met to discuss two very important issues. One being, Memorial Hall, and the other, vacant properties.

The city council had requested that I research the possibility of a company who would be interested in the stone blocks in return for cleaning out the debris and removing the brick from the building. We have been looking now for several months with no success.

Our engineer proposed an estimated cost that would remove the brick and debris leaving the stone for future use, such as a park, etc. The estimated cost is approximately $109,000.

Yes this is expensive but much lower than it was two years ago. The finance committee took this under advisement and will continue discussion.

The other issue, vacant properties, is something that plagues our community as well as others, especially this time of year when the grass is growing. It seems like you can’t drive down the street without seeing several overgrown lawns.

We have tried for the past several years to instill pride back into our community and I believe we have had great success.

But, our work is not finished.

I certainly applaud those of you who maintain your lawn and property. I believe your neighbors would say the same.

Maintaining your property is contagious to our entire community and obviously shows the pride that we have in our city.

The process of cutting the lawns of vacant properties is also a time consuming difficult process. Some may think that the health department can just go in and cut the grass.

That is not how it works.

Allow me the opportunity to give you an example of just how difficult and time consuming this process really is. I took on the task of “hunting” down the responsible person for a certain piece of property in town who was not maintaining the property. After all, the objective is to have the owner maintain the property, not the health department.

I knew the house was vacant and the lawn was well over two feet high. I do not know where the person, who was identified on the books, is currently residing.

Before I contacted the health department I first looked on the website to see who owned the property. The name and same address came up. Well, no sense in sending a $6 certified letter to that property. It is vacant.

I then went to the property and seen a note on the door which stated, call this number if the property is occupied. I called the number which was a company in Westlake, Texas called Mortgage Contract Services (MCS).

I told the person the issue and they stated that my issue would have to be handled by the maintenance division. This division only pays the taxes for the lender. I asked who the lender was and they said they could not reveal that information.

So they gave me another number. I called that number which was located in Tampa, Fla. I explained the issue and was told that they would contact a company and have the lawn cut. I asked again who the lender was and was told they could not reveal that information. I went further and asked when, would the lawn be cut. They informed me that they would call the lender and state my concern and then hire a company to cut the lawn.

I allowed a couple of days in order to give them time to contact “the lender” and hire a company to have the lawn cut. After a couple days, I called back and repeated the concern and was told the same thing.

I called every day for 11 straight days and was given the same answer. Finally, on a Saturday morning I drove by the property and noticed a truck and two men cutting the lawn. I stopped and talked with one man and asked who he was working for? He stated that MCS hired him to cut the lawn. I asked where he was from and he replied, Muncie, Ind.

Obviously, I was taken back and asked if he drove from Muncie to cut one lawn in Ironton, Ohio. He replied, yes. He stated that he covers 18 states and recently was awarded this area of Ohio. I asked him if he would be back every couple of weeks and he replied, if MCS hires him he would.

Well, it has been three weeks since the lawn has been cut so I have called four more times. Now I get an answering machine. I finally received a call back and it appears to be the same process over again. Now, this property is not yet in foreclosure so the name on the books is still the owner.

I have no idea where the owner is currently residing. At least this property had a number to call. Most vacant properties do not.

When a property is occupied the process is time consuming but somewhat easier.

The health department sends a notice to the address and gives them a certain amount of days to cut the property and if the Health Department cuts the property, the cost is accessed to the property taxes. This is also true for vacant properties.

The health department may or may not get that expense back. It depends if the taxes are paid. Some properties are delinquent several thousand dollars and the health department may never be reimbursed.

This year the Ironton Health Department received approximately $7,900 from last year’s taxes to pay three individuals to cut grass. At last count, Ironton has over $40,000 in accessed taxes but we only get a portion because of unpaid taxes.

As you can imagine, this will not go very far and they are behind which, in turn, makes our city look bad.

Recently the Ironton Health Department Board enacted a penalty, above and beyond the cutting cost, for those properties cut in the amount of $500 and $50 each additional cut on top of the $500.

We have to get their attention. This process is absolutely ridiculous.

Maintaining property should not be this difficult. Someone has to be responsible and we are trying to locate these people to the best of our ability.

Some property owners who are local will not like this penalty. Too bad. Maintain your property and you will not have to worry about it.

After all, it is your responsibility, not the Ironton City Health Department.

I have also asked the finance committee to allocate up to $15,000 to the Health Department in order to hire additional individuals to keep up with these un-maintained properties and make our city look better during this grass growing season.


Rich Blankenship is an Ironton resident serving his second four-year term as mayor.