Perryville debates abandoned tax roll, what to do about historic properties

Published 12:23 am Monday, March 6, 2017

History was on the table during the Perryville City Council meeting Thursday night, as the discussion came back to the city’s lease agreement with Main Street Perryville; the city’s abandoned urban property ordinances; and how to help repair the city’s historic properties.

Bill and Linda Faulconer, owners of 208 South Jackson Street in Perryville, returned to the council to discuss the city’s abandoned urban property tax roll.

Perryville has laws in place that increase the property tax rate on properties that are added to the abandoned tax roll. In 2016, the Perryville City Council voted for those who make the abandoned urban property tax roll to pay $7.50 per $100 of assessed value, up from the 2015 rate of $5 per $100 in value. That means a property valued at $50,000 which is added to the list would be assessed $3,750 in property tax.

On top of the taxes, any property that makes a preliminary list of potentially abandoned properties and receives a warning letter from the city is subject to a $100 administration fee.

The Faulconers argued at Thursday’s meeting that the laws don’t encourage owners to fix their properties, but do punish those who are trying to fix up properties the correct way.

“The ordinance as it stands does not allow for renovation. It doesn’t have a provision for someone who wants to do a complete renovation of the property. That’s what we would like to see the ordinance deal with,” Linda Faulconer said.

The Faulconers cited the city of Lexington’s rates, which are $1 per $100.

Linda Faulconer said she also believes the ordinance needs to be more clearly written and account for situations such as theirs.

In a written statement to the council, the Faulconers said they had used the “same temporary measures the city uses to avoid repairing its dilapidated buildings in the historic area” in 2014 and 2015. In 2016, the Faulconers began working on the home, “determined to take 208 S. Jackson Street out of that death spiral” and “began a complete restoration of the house.”

“In doing so, we failed to achieve an arbitrary benchmark that the fire chief uses to determine if a homeowner is complying with the abandoned/neglected property ordinance,” the statement reads.

In the statement, the Faulconers also requested that the city remove them from the abandoned tax roll and return their funds.

Perryville Fire Chief Anthony Young, who is tasked with evaluating properties in the city, told the Faulconers during the council’s February meeting they needed to cover the building with some type of wrapping. The Faulconers said they were working on the foundation of the building and were at the wrong stage in the process to wrap their structure.

“We are making a good faith effort to comply, therefore, we were as compliant as other (properties),” said Bill Faulconer.

Council members agreed that the ordinance might need to be revisited, in order to give Young more freedoms in making allowances in these situations.

“Maybe there needs to be changes in the way the ordinance is written, but look in a more in-depth way … We’re not talking about abandoned homes. We have historic properties,” councilman Jerry Houck said. “My biggest problem is that half of the properties belong to us. … (We say) to the tax-paying citizens ‘your property has to be taken care of in a certain way,’ but because we’re the city, our properties don’t have to be taken care of in the same way.”

City Attorney Lynne Dean pointed out that the point of the ordinance was not to impact whether or not a property was restored, but that a property was safe.

“It’s the safety issue. If you want properties to look a different way or to be finished, that’s the subject of a different ordinance,” she said. “You can not write an ordinance and come up with every contingency down the road.”

Council member Julie Clay said a historic property ordinance could help, because it could protect historic properties from being listed on the abandoned tax roll.

“Maybe (there is) a package of ordinances that need to apply … so there’s several layers of things that we can not only assist but help people get to the point where they’re renovating buildings,” Houck said.

Unfortunately, nothing can be done to remove the property from the higher tax roll, council members said.

“We have an ordinance, but the ordinance is written so nothing can be done,” Houck said. “They paid the tax, they want us to re-look at the ordinance so it fits a little more fairly, so we can have some guidance that gives us more leniency.”

“It gives us the opportunity to look at it through a different light so we don’t fall into having these same conversations next year,” Houck said.

Main Street Perryville lease

Later during Thursday’s meeting, council member Paul Webb revisited the idea of renegotiating or doing away with the city’s lease with Main Street Perryville, the local downtown business promotion organization.

“I think we need to reevaluate this lease in order to look at it … I feel that we should terminate the lease, take back our properties, collect the rent ourselves, fix the buildings, so we can show the city that we will do something about our property,” Webb said.

The fact that the city properties also remain on the abandoned urban property list each year is a problem, he said, when “we have problems like we have with the Faulconers, with people coming in and saying, ‘The city does nothing with their buildings.’”

“It says in the lease that the Main Street program is responsible for the mowing and maintaining of the properties,” Webb said. “Since everyone is saying that the city does nothing for these properties, we as a city are paying someone to go over there and mow these properties that Main Street should be doing. So you can’t sit there and say that we do nothing for Main Street when we do.”

“My problem is that I have looked at this, and we have people wanting to buy properties, people wanting to do this, people complaining because we have dilapidated properties. We have sat for the last six years allowing the properties to be run by an organization that doesn’t have the funds to do so, when — if we’re smart about it — we could have already done something to turn around these buildings.”

Webb said he believes the city should either terminate the lease with Main Street, or renegotiate the terms to raise the rent on the properties, which are currently rented at no cost.

Other council members disagreed with the idea of taking the properties back from Main Street Perryville.

“We have talked all the way around this lease several times,” said Houck. “It comes down to me that we’ve got properties that aren’t done. I’m not going to blame it on the lease or one thing or another.”

“It’s a challenge in my mind to say that we’ve leased a piece of property that is unleaseable. So we turned over the city’s properties to somebody else and say ‘your responsibility is to make it leasable,’” Houck said. “Main Street doesn’t have the money — that’s no big secret — no Main Streets do. But the city of Perryville doesn’t either.”

My opinion is we need someone like Main Street to continue doing what they’re doing,” council member Brian Caldwell said. “I know it’s tough on both sides. We don’t have the money. They don’t have enough money to do what they need to do.”

Caldwell pointed out that properties only make it on the abandoned tax roll when they are deemed a safety hazard.

“I don’t know that (the city has) any properties that are unsafe,” he said.

Fire Chief Anthony Young said there were some outbuildings that were unsafe, but the main structures were safe. A barn behind the Pope House and outbuildings at the Karricks Parks House are potential safety issues, he said.

“Take the barn behind the Pope house — I’m surprised the wind or any wind hasn’t taken it down,” he said.

Seeing properties not getting the care they need is disheartening, Houck said.

“From my perspective, instead of just keeping to sitting around the table and saying, ‘Yeah, we’re a historic neighborhood, we’re a historic community and we want to save the historic properties’ — we don’t have the means to do it. We need to put something on the table that creates something that does create the means,” Houck said.

Selling some of the properties, he said, would be one way of creating the means.

“Let somebody that may have some money to go in and do some refurbishing on them. We as a city can do our historic ordinance and easements that protects them,” he said.

The properties already have historic easements at the federal level, Clay said, which protect them more than anything the city can do.

Clay suggested the city do more monetarily to protect the structures, such as dedicate a city bond, create a dedicated hotel tax or use money from alcohol taxes to help. Houck pointed out that alcohol taxes cannot be used in that way, but agreed that something needed to be done.

“There have to be some other options than to say, ‘We’re not going to do anything,’” Houck said.

“Other municipalities help offset their Main Street program by helping to offset the cost of a director. We do not,” Clay said.

“These are also cities that have money. We are limited … Throw (the director salary) in as a line item that we can look at on the budget. If we’ve got it, maybe; if we don’t, put it along with other things that we want to do but don’t have the money for,” Houck said.

Webb said he still believes the city needs to retake control.

“We have to realize that Main Street is not a leasing agent. That is not what they are designed to do,” he said. “These are our buildings.”

Overall, said Vicki Goode, executive director of Main Street Perryville, the organization has been working on the properties as money is available. Last year, about $9,000 was spent on Dr. Polk’s House. It was wrapped and had new gutters installed.

They also began replacing the siding on Park’s Store, a project that will continue as weather permits. She said other projects were also in the works.

Follow Kendra Peek on Twitter, @knpeek.