HAMLET — The city of Hamlet is working to take care of dilapidated homes throughout the city.
The state of blighted properties in the city was discussed Thursday at the city council’s work session. Officials said they wanted to ensure residents that it is working on taking care of the homes.
Gail Strickland, a member of the city of Hamlet’s administrative team, said that a total of 42 structures have been removed from the city in the past five years.
“There are still a lot of dilapidated houses, but we are making progress” Strickland said.
Hamlet resident Barbara Leviner Jackson took issue with the city’s apparent slow progress in a letter published Jan. 25 in The Daily Journal. Jackson said blighted properties can become a haven for undesirable rodents and unlawful behavior and help to drive down property values in the area.
In particular, Jackson pointed out the area from Raleigh Street to State Route 177 North, and Hamlet Avenue to Pine Street.
“As soon as I entered the area, I immediately understood the homes’ low prices,” Jackson wrote.
Officials said the issue was discussed at Thursday’s meeting after they read Jackson’s letter in the newspaper.
Hamlet Mayor Bill Bayless agreed that the homes are a problem, but that the city is doing what it can to try and keep buildings to code.
“We’re aware of the problem,” Bayless said. “Over the last several years we have worked as hard as we can with the money available to abate the situation. Without going up on taxes, there is no way we can do the job any better or faster.”
Strickland said that Hamlet has budgeted $20,000 annually to deal with structures that are not up to the the city’s codes. With that funding, the city determines which properties to demolish and is able to remove two to three properties per year. Last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2013, the city razed two buildings on East Hamlet Avenue at a cost of $29,470.72 —which exceeded the budget, Strickland said, but was a necessity because part of one building was falling into the roadway. The additional $9,470.72 was pulled from the previous year’s budget that was unused.
When a building is demolished, the city does not come into possession of the property.
“The city does not gain ownership of the property,” Strickland said. “North Carolina General Statutes allow the amount of the cost of any removal or demolition to be a lien against the real property upon which such cost was incurred.”
That money has not yet been used in the current fiscal year. Strickland said the plan is to begin the demolition of burned apartment buildings on State Route 177, but an inspection needs to be done on the apartments first. The city of Hamlet is currently negotiating a contract with Richmond County for building inspection services.
Strickland, in charge of the city’s zoning, said the city addresses code violations on a complaint basis. Once a complaint is received, staff makes a visit to determine that the complaint is justified. A code enforcement officer may consider a number of issues related to the home including whether holes and cracks in the structure or the collection of garbage outside the structure is of the nature to allow rodents or insects in and around the property.
“Residential homes that are boarded up actually do meet code,” Strickland said.
Strickland said when a property has been determined to be in violations, before removal, a letter is sent to the owner listing the nuisances and the steps that can be taken to remedy the problem and bring the property into compliance. The owner is asked to submit a written plan of action and if the owner does not do so within a certain amount of time he or she will then be fined for the state of the property.
“The goal for the city is not to implement fines,” Strickland said. “The goal is to have the property owner maintain their property in a manner that meets code. If the written plan is received by the deadline, the city works with the owner provided continued, significant progress is made.”
The funds that the city receive from these properties go back into the general operating budget to offset the $20,000 budgeted for demolitions.
The city is currently assessing fines on 20 properties in Hamlet. The fines of the 20 homes, which totals $900,200, is what is owed to the city. The amount owed to the city on each property becomes a lien on the property when the owners do not pay.