Litchfield Looks At Problem Properties

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Mayor Steve Dougherty’s inspection program was discussed during the Litchfield City Council meeting on Thursday, Jan. 6, as the city continues to look at ways to reduce dilapidated properties.

Dougherty said that he is extending the deadline for the alderpersons to inspect the wards they have been assigned until March 1, with these inspections focusing on condition of housing and most everything besides inoperable vehicles, which was the focus of a previous inspection. He said that the city currently has a long list of properties that need attention and after the next round of inspections is complete, the city will be sending out letters asking for compliance. If the property owner refuses, the city may take additional steps to rectify the violations.

Dougherty also said that he hadn’t received some of the inspection updates and took it upon himself to do some of the areas that hadn’t been inspected. He asked each council member if they were willing to continue the inspection program, with all seven participating in the meeting agreeing to continue (Alderwoman Marilyn Sisson was absent).

Alderman Woodrow Street expressed some concerns with the program, though, saying that he knew that some of the people who had code violations were unable to correct the problems based on lack of finances or health/age issues. He added that he didn’t think the city should spend all their efforts on code enforcement, nor should they “bring the hammer down” on those who were in tough positions.

Dougherty said that wasn’t the purpose of the inspections, but he did believe that the majority of the problems were due to neglect and apathy. He added that the council members are leaders in their community and have a responsibility to take care of these issues. City Attorney Kit Hantla added that the city isn’t looking for fines, just compliance. 

Dougherty mentioned that Hillsboro had recently demolished their 50th dilapidated building and asked Hantla, Hillsboro’s city attorney as well, about their efforts.

Hantla said that Hillsboro is also stepping up enforcement efforts and that it’s a problem in numerous communities all over. He added that some of the problems are due to having an aging community, but he hoped that volunteer groups would step up to help those who needed it.

Dougherty added that the city had received $500,000 in grants for updates to low income housing, which would help rehabilitate 15 to 25 homes.

Dougherty said those grants are already spoken for, but he hoped that more grants would be available in the future and that the city is continuing to work to help people who can’t afford the necessities.

Alderman David Hollo said that the sending of the letters should coincide with city clean-up week, which should be a good resource for those wishing to fix violations on their property.

Building Inspector Gary Baker said that the demolition process has begun for eight buildings and the city is looking at four other potential problem properties. City Administrator Tonya Flannery said that the city has received a grant for more than $200,000 to help pay for the demolition process of such structures.

Before the discussion ended, Alderman Tim Wright spoke expressing concerns about a property in his neighborhood. Wright, at the meeting via Zoom, said that a house near his had been in poor shape for more than 30 years and that he had brought it to the attention of Baker and Flannery. He said that the city refused to do anything about the property, despite consistent complaints from neighbors.

Alderwoman Kassidy Paine told Wright that the property he was mentioning had actually been approved for demolition at a recent council meeting and was scheduled to be torn down. Wright said that was fine, but he still didn’t know how the city was going to fix problems in three months that had been going on for years and years. Flannery asked Wright to share his list of problem properties and she would check into them, but the city does have to go through the legal process before anything can be done.

The code inspection discussion came at the end of the council’s meeting, which entered into closed session at 7:05 p.m. with no action taken afterward.

The meeting began with recognition of Montgomery County State’s Attorney Andrew Affrunti, who was in attendance and was thanked for helping with the recent drug arrests in town. Affrunti said that the law enforcement officers deserved most of the credit and said that a lot of people in the narcotics trade are off the street thanks to their hard work.

One of those Litchfield law enforcement officers was center stage next as Officer Quincy Fergurson was introduced and promoted to the position of sergeant with the Litchfield Police Department.

“He’s full of energy, he has an insane amount of passion for the job and he makes everyone he works with better,” Police Chief Kenny Ryker said of Fergurson, who started with Litchfield in February 2017 after four years with the Nokomis Police Department.

“I’m happy to be here. It’s a great agency and I’m glad that life has brought me to Litchfield,” said Fergurson, who was sworn in by City Clerk Carol Burke, with the help of Fergurson’s wife Jenny.

The council also approved 11 items on the new business agenda, plus the minutes from the Dec. 16 meeting and the motion to transfer funds and pay bills. One of those motions was a resolution of support and commitment of local funds for the state Rebuild Downtowns and Main Streets Capital Grant application, which will be used on the Carnegie building and grounds and the lot at 409 North State Street if Litchfield receives the grant.

Also approved were the pay request from Rooters Asphalt for the amount of $25,715 for work on Weir Street, the installation of stop signs at the intersection of Van Buren Street and Ryder Street, the soliciting of bids for replacement fabric (liner) for the wastewater treatment facility, a pay request from Haier Plumbing for $99,382.58 for work on the Lake Lou Yaeger sewer project and two pay requests from Korte Luitjohan for $51,432.93 and $111,659.22 for work done on the wastewater treatment facility’s chemical feed improvement project.

The council also approved the purchase of a 2021 Ford F150 extended cab from Morrow Brothers Ford under state bid in the amount of $31,785. The truck will be used by the lake superintendent, with the current SUV being transferred to Chief Ryker. A new vehicle for the chief was budgeted for in the 2022-23

budget for $45,000, but the city will save money by moving the SUV to the police department and purchasing the truck, which will be a better fit for the duties of the lake superintendent.

Before discussing the code inspections, the council also approved an amendment extending the operating contract with Grand Rental for boat rental services at Lake Lou Yaeger, approved a proposal from Crawford, Murphy and Tilly Engineers for $59,000 for services for the 16th Avenue sediment basin in conjunction with the Lake Yaeger watershed implementation project and approved a motion to repair one of the filter turbidimeters, which measures the clarity of the water, by Hach Company for a cost not to exceed $2,200. 

The council’s next regular meeting will be on Jan. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at Corwin Hall.

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