Purdy officials review local property maintenance issues

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Repo properties, unresponsive owners blamed for poor appearances

Purdy City Council members are exploring options for one of the more annoying issues facing the community -- poor property maintenance.

Alderman Bo Prock, who last month was elected mayor pro tem, asked further about improving property appearances around town after resident Raymond Stapleton raised the issue concerning a lot from Edina to Highway C that has become so overgrown that vegetation blocks the view for motorists.

Police Chief Jackie Lowe said his biggest problem stems from being able to identify the owners. Many of the problem properties with issues in town are either repossessed houses or owned by chronically-absent owners who have little concern about appearances. The property on Edina, he observed, according to the county assessor's office, is owned by Carrington Mortgage. However, when contacted, Carrington said the land had been sold and refused to divulge the new owner.

Under the property maintenance ordinance passed in 2008, the city can ticket owners if vegetation reaches 12 inches in height. At that threshold, Lowe send the owner a letter giving them 10 days to act. If nothing happens, Lowe can issue a summons to municipal court, which meets once a month. If the owner fails to appear, the process extends even further.

If Lowe cannot find the owner, he said he has to get a warrant for city employees to even go onto the property. Then the city can mow the land and put a tax lien on the property for the cost, though Lowe said even that is a complicated process. In some cases, banks have contracted with teams to handle general maintenance. Lowe said he has had some success voicing his issues with those crews.

No city law would restrain a frustrated neighbor who chose to mow the property instead, Lowe added.

Presently Lowe has around seven properties where he hopes to prompt some action. In one case, the owner died a year ago, and the family seems to have abandoned the land. Unmaintained land, he noted, invites squatters or, in one case, a burglary, though there was nothing in the house to take.

Officer Russ Nichols, the city's building inspector, added that due to court limits on arrests for failure to appear in court, stemming from abuses cited in Ferguson, police had limited tools to coerce action.

"Purdy has always been a 'good ol' boy' town," Prock said. "We need to figure out some way to get action and not break the rules."

Mayor Steve Roden directed Lowe to consult further with City Attorney Darlene Parrigon on what else to do. He suggested that Carrington, for example, as the owner of record, still may be subject to ticketing.

"Keep hammering away," Roden said. "Hit it as hard as you can."

School Superintendent Steve Chancellor offered to file two-dozen complaints about poorly-maintained properties, if that would give Lowe more leverage. Chancellor warned that apathy among owners would only lead to more problems. Prock suggested revising the ordinance to give it more teeth.

New alderman Brian Bowers asked about two property issues that came to his attention. He voiced concern about stormwater runoff soaking into the wood chip base under the playground equipment in the park. Roden asked the public works staff to study the situation in case a drainage pipe added at the low end could help relieve the problem.

Bowers also asked about a V-shaped section of land south of the school's main playground where debris has piled up. Chancellor indicated the owner of land between two sections of school land is unknown, and may possibly be the Arkansas-Missouri Railroad, since it feeds a stormwater drainage channel. School crews may have contributed to the debris pile, he said, and he hoped to have it burned once classes dismissed.

Roden added there are ditches "all over town" that need work.

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