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Town Cleanup: Harrisburg, Eldorado continue to improve neighborhoods

Posted on 4/20/2017, 5:00 AM

SALINE COUNTY -- City leaders in the county's two largest towns say while the work has been difficult and time consuming, the results of cleaning up the towns is improving city safety and pride.

While both town's programs differ slightly, the end result of each is the same. Eldorado Mayor Rocky James said his city's cleanup initiative has been active for a number of years.

"I was police commissioner for four years, and now I'm midway through my third term as mayor," James said. "It's been an active program all during that time."

And, the results are noticeable, he said.

"We've basically gotten rid of or cleaned up at least 400 properties during that time," James said. "That doesn't mean we're done. There are many more properties that need to be torn down, and we're continuing to work on them."

Eldorado city attorney C. Mart Watson said there are two basic ways in which properties that run afoul of city ordinances regarding maintenance and upkeep are handled. The speed at which the properties can be improved depends on the cooperation of the owner, he said.

Often, Watson said, a landowner lives in or near Eldorado and is aware that a home he or she owns is in dire need of repair. Many of those landowners are willing to work with the city to clean up derelict properties, he said.

"When the landowner cannot be located or does not wish to cooperate is when we have to start the legal process," Watson said.

That involves title searches for owners and lienholders, and after that information is obtained, the city will file a suit. The city also must publish a notice once a week for three weeks in an additional effort to locate landowners. If no one comes forward and the city demolishes the home, Watson then places a lien for the cost of demolition against the property.

"That's what will eventually happen if owners won't or can't cooperate," he said.

When the landowners are receptive to a cleanup project, progress can be made much faster both Watson and James said.

"The program we have is, I think, a little different than some communities," James said. "If the property owner will pay for the Dumpsters, the city will demolish the building."

The program has some limitations, he said.

"As long as it is a home or building that a city backhoe can handle, we'll take it down with the backhoe," James said. "If it's something larger or sturdier, then we have to take a different tactic."

Harrisburg also has had a program to clean up derelict properties for a number of years, Mayor John McPeek said, but little progress had been made until recently.

"If you're going to have a city code or ordinance, then you have to have a code enforcement officer and you have to aggressively enforce that code," McPeek said.

At a recent council meeting, Dave Williams was named code enforcement officer, which gives the city more legal backing for enforcing its code, McPeek said.

Fire Chief John Gunning is the person in charge of cleaning up derelict properties for Harrisburg. On any given day, it's not unusual to see Gunning overseeing ongoing cleanup projects at several different sites throughout the town.

"There are a lot of properties that need work or just need torn down," Gunning said.

Harrisburg also must follow a legal process by which an attempt is made to notify owners. Cooperative owners mean a much faster, easier project, Gunning said.

It is not unusual, Gunning said, for some property owners to cede ownership to the city in exchange for fronting the full cost of the cleanup. Those properties then may be sold by the city to recoup demolition costs. Those properties usually can be used for either residential or commercial construction, he said.

McPeek said he believes Harrisburg residents are already noticing a difference.

"In the last three months, we've had at least 12 hourses so far and there's another 10 or 12 that we're working on," he said. "The most important thing is, the city is getting aggressive and people are getting their yards cleaned up. People are taking pride in their neighborhoods again."