Body shares plan for new mass foreclosures committee

Zirconia Alleyne | Kentucky New Era

Hopkinsville Chief Administrative Officer Troy Body shows a map that indicates areas of the city that have the most vacant properties, which the city ultimately keeps up at the cost of a lien against the property owner. A new committee is being formed to collect those liens or auction those properties.

A new committee that will focus on clearing the city's backlog of unpaid liens for unkempt and unsafe structures around town is on the horizon of being implemented.

The Code Enforcement Mass Foreclosure Committee will work with a collection agency to get property owners to pay liens the city has placed on their property due to violations of the city's Codes of Ordinances.

Chief Administrative Officer Troy Body said records indicate the city has amassed more than $2.3 million in unpaid property liens throughout the years.

In other words, Community Development Services code enforcement officers have cited property owners for not complying with the city's codes; however, many of those properties have not been fixed, leading to fines and liens on the property, which haven't been paid, and a strain on city resources to upkeep those properties.

"For me, working in New Orleans, code enforcement was a huge part of cleaning up after the storm -- not just because of the damage the water did, but they had these problems in New Orleans for 40 years," said Body, who worked as senior policy analyst and director of Development Services in the New Orleans Mayor's Office of Recovery and Development Administration 2008-10. "When I (got) here to Hopkinsville (in May 2018), one of the things I'm looking at down in the tax office (is) there's about four or five filing cabinets with thin, little files in them, and they're packed, thousands."

The files are for abandoned properties around the city, and each file includes notice after notice of citations, fines and final orders that have been issued to property owners from the Code of Ordinance Enforcement Board. Body said oftentimes, the property owner either doesn't live here or doesn't care, so the fines go unpaid and the city ends up taking care of the lot.

"Let's say your great-great-grandmother leaves you a lot or a house and you move to California and just leave it," Body said. "With Public Works, I'm noticing how much grass cutting they're doing. They're cutting these same lots year after year after year. I'm noticing the liens that are being placed on these properties by code enforcement, they're just stacking up to the ceiling, and we're not being aggressive enough to get them to pay."

According to the city's website, properties are cited by CDS code enforcement -- which is contracted by the City of Hopkinsville to enforce codes -- for grass, trash and weeds; basic property maintenance violations and unsafe structures.

The property owner receives a notice when their property has violated one of those codes and must appear for a hearing before the Code of Ordinance Enforcement Board, which is a legal board that can determine next steps for the property, Body noted.

After the board reaches a judgment for the property, a final order is issued to the owner and posted on the city's website. Hundreds of final orders are available for review online at hopkinsvilleky.us/lienholder.

The city may remedy violations by cutting lots with high grass or weeds, demolishing structures and removing unsafe conditions, according to Section 33.189 (G) of the Hopkinsville Code of Ordinances.

According to the ordinance, costs associated with assessed Code Enforcement Board fees or fines and abatement action on the part of the city or its contractors will be assessed as liens against the property. In the event the liens aren't paid, the bank or the city may initiate a foreclosure and the property will be sold at a judicial sale with the sales proceeds to pay the liens on the property.

The Code Enforcement Mass Foreclosure Committee is prepared to expedite the foreclosure process. The committee will include Body, Community Development Services Director Steve Bourne, City Attorney Doug Willen, Hopkinsville Solid Waste Director Tony Sicari, a code enforcement officer, a police officer, a Public Works officer and a fire department representative.

Body said the committee will look at three categories -- public safety, economic development and quality of life -- when determining which properties will be at the top of the priority list.

"Part of this program will have an education component where we're reaching out saying, 'Work with us,' and we can work with you on those liens," he said.

Body said the ultimate goal is to get properties abated and cleaned up, to get them back in good standing on the city's tax rolls and to get the city out of taking care of them.

"This is not a property grab," Body said. "We have no interest in these (properties) -- the city can't own a thousand properties -- but we're already taking care of them as if we do, and the taxpayers are paying for this," he said.

Body said the whole community is affected by unpaid liens and unsafe structures in a variety of ways, including public safety, property values and quality of life.

"Everything negative goes on when you have an abandoned property," Body said. "There comes a point in public safety when (the city) has to move."

If the liens are collected, Body said those funds go into the general revenue fund for city council to allott for other programs and projects. If the liens aren't paid, those properties will be auctioned or go into the city's landbank for potential economic development projects.

Body said the city is prepared for pushback from some property owners; however, he said records show the city hasn't enforced the liens for many years.

"We let these things stack," he said. "We're talking millions of millions of dollars (of liens) and we're spending thousands and thousands a year in upkeep; money that we could use in so many other ways at the city.

"I really want to send the message, 'work with us,'" he continued. "That's the first thing, but if you refuse to do that, understand the city is very serious and we're not going to stop. The time has come and it's really gone too far."

The committee, which is separate from the Code of Ordinance Enforcement Board, will meet again before the end of August, but Body said that meeting date has not been set. The New Era will publish the date when it is available.

Reach Zirconia Alleyne at 270-887-3243 or zalleyne@kentuckynewera.com.

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