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Prosecutor: Commission can’t condemn structures

With a prosecutor’s opinion that says the Lawrence County Commission does not have the power to condemn uninhabitable structures, removing those through a volunteer agreement may be the way the county goes to clean up blighted areas.

At a work session a week ago, Commission President Bill Pratt asked Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson if the commission had the power to condemn structures.

The request comes as officeholders and members of the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization were brainstorming to come up with ways to remove abandoned, blighted structures that were creating eyesores in the county.

“The legislature has left that up to the individual township trustees and the county board of health,” Anderson said.

Now with that opinion Pratt sees seeking a voluntary agreement with the property owner as the most feasible manner of cleaning up the eyesores.

“This makes the voluntary option a lot more valuable,” he said.

There are three avenues possible for removing blighted structures: the voluntary agreement, condemnation and tax foreclosure.

The voluntary agreement is the one used by the CAO, but requires the property owner to agree to the demolition.

In a condemnation notice must be given to the property owner that the authorities have declared the site uninhabitable and a nuisance.

“You give notice to the owner of the property and if you can’t find the owner you give notice by publication,” Anderson said. “(The property owner) has the right to contest the fact that it has been declared. That is the purpose of the notice requirement for the property owner to correct the problem themselves.”

If they don’t and the building is demolished, those costs are put on that property tax bill. If the owner cannot be found and the structure is torn down, those costs will be part of any type of tax sale including a sheriff’s sale.

The third option is a tax foreclosure where County Treasurer Stephen Burcham would sell the tax liens on the blighted parcels for $1 each.

There is a one-year’s wait before the owner of the lien can foreclose on the property. The property must be put on a sheriff’s sale twice and if there are no bidders the title is issued to the tax lien holder. Then that person can demolish any structures, if he so chooses.

“The tax lien takes too long to go through foreclosure and they could buy the property back,” Pratt said.