10/28/2005 3:53:00 PM Editorial Cleaning up city on the cheap
For now, the city of Robinson is pursuing a “low-budget” method for dealing with owners of derelict properties — issuing tickets that amount to $96 per citation (including court costs)
Will it work? We hope so, but it might not be wise to bet more than, say, $96 on it.
Many of the owners of the worst properties in town don’t live in Robinson, or even in Illinois. Will they even open the envelope? Or will they just consider it part of the cost of being a slumlord?
It might make a difference if the city is able to keep after them — issuing citations often enough for it to be a nuisance, and following up with meaningful threats of more drastic action. But a fine of less than $100 sends property owners the message that the city must not take their violations too seriously.
And clearly, the violations are serious: roofs caving in, standing water, health and safety issues — and not isolated on the outskirts of town, but right in the middle of otherwise-thriving neighborhoods, right next door to neighbors who deserve better.
The city says it costs $5,000 to $8,000 to demolish a house and clean up the site. That’s a lot, but think of the costs of letting them stand:
• Property values of entire neighborhoods dragged down by one or two uninhabitable houses.
• The loss of families, maybe first-time homebuyers, who can’t find a decent place to live in town — of if they can, it’s next door to a dangerous eyesore.
• The loss of potential businesses when site-selection teams cruise our streets, rolling their eyes at the derelict properties and wondering where they’re going to house 500 high-wage workers.
If the city intends to proceed with its $96 fines, the threat of condemnation needs to remain in play, as City Attorney Frank Weber suggested — and not six months or a year down the road, but as soon as possible after a citation is ignored.
And if the city cannot or will not pursue condemnation and demolition, fines need to be dramatically increased to give property owners no other option but immediate action.
With the fines, the city council wants to show citizens the problem is being addressed. But some of those who have complained for months without results will only be convinced the problem is being addressed when they see bulldozers start rolling.