When Jefferson City demolishes a building or takes abatement measures to address code violations, one of the goals is for the property owners to pay the city back.
However, that can be more complicated than it sounds.
The city pays the initial bill and files a tax bill against the owner.
Property Inspector Dave Helmick said the owner has the option to pay the bill, but if it isn’t paid then it becomes a tax lien.
The four most recent city demolitions were at 519 E. Capitol Ave. for $87,849, 1324 E. Miller St. for $12,372, 1001 Washington St. for $12,780 and 1421 St. Mary’s Blvd. for $12,790.
Planning and Protective Services Director Sonny Sanders said all four have tax bills issues since August 2020 and none have been paid so far.
“We do get our abatement money back,” he said. “The demolition is not as successful.”
Abatements include things like boarding up windows and cutting grass when a property doesn’t meet code. The tax fees that come with those can go through the same process as demolition fees, but are normally smaller amounts.
If a bill isn’t paid off, the county can foreclose on the property based on unpaid taxes, City Attorney Ryan Moehlman said.
“In the situation of dangerous buildings, the statute also says that the amounts are a personal debt of the property owner,” he said. “So, sometimes, we will also file a suit against the property owner seeking reimbursement for these costs that we spent on the private property.”
For instance, in 2016 the city won a lawsuit against property owner Barbara Buescher for $24,785.
The suit included $17,000 for demolition of a building at 111 Adams St. and 18 other counts for abatement of various properties she owns. The demolition cost $16,900, Sanders said. Judgment on the case took 17 months. After the lawsuit, Buescher still owns the property.
With a successful lawsuit, the city was able to garnish Buescher’s wages for that amount.
The city filed another suit against Buescher in May for the demolition of 519 E. Capitol Ave. for $88,099. Moehlman said he isn’t sure how long this suit will take.
Helmick said he has given the city’s law department a list of other demolished properties to look into as well.
“It’s one of those things that they were averaging, up until three years ago, one property getting demoed every three to five years because there was no funds for it,” he said. “Now that we can actually start getting caught up, then the law department can do what they need to do and everybody can start moving forward and we can start making a change.”
The city is preparing to make a dent in the 15 structures marked for demolition or in the final step of that process after the City Council approved an additional $300,000 on June 21 to go toward demolitions, along with an additional $15,000 for abatement efforts.
One challenge, Moehlman said, is sometimes the tax lien becomes more than the property is worth, which makes it harder to sell or market to someone else.
“Also, occasionally, the property owners go through some sort of bankruptcy or are otherwise judgment-proof,” he said. “Sometimes it is difficult to collect those amounts, but we try to do everything we can in order to get repaid in accordance with the statute.”