Council supports petitioners urging flood property cleanup

The Minot City Council put money behind a motion Monday to have staff organize a plan to clean up abandoned, flooded properties.

The move to allocated $74,000 in sales tax receipts to address the most urgent properties came after a community group turned in petitions with 1,000 signatures of residents asking for more action against so-called zombie homes.

“It’s not saying bulldoze the homes,” said Lianne Zeltinger, who led the petition drive.”It’s not saying cut everything down. It’s saying clean up the debris.”

She cited animals, dead and alive, in these yards. She mentioned houses that are unsecured with unmowed yards and debris piles that neighbors have to look at every day. She said seven properties have been identified with collapsed basements, some of which are near schools.

“I just don’t understand why they have not been barricaded,” Zeltinger said. “All the people in Minot in the flood plain have over-extended themselves emotionally, physically and financially so we all know what the financial burden is, but we want safety.”

Resident Dan Meschke spoke of three homes in his neighborhood with open basements.

“Somebody is going to get hurt,’ he said. “You guys have to get out there and make sure that these basements that are standing wide open, that the people who own the properties take care of them. This is really a safety hazard.”

Several people in the crowd, wearing “Let’s Clean R’ Up” on green lapel tags, showed up to give support to the petitions. A couple of residents spoke about lingering mold smells, drug activity and squatters in abandoned houses.

Council member Dean Frantsvog’s comment that actions need to be taken immediately was met with applause. The issue was money to pay for the fencing and other work, which interim city manager Cindy Hemphill said could be bid if money is available. She said the city has $74,000 in uncommitted funds from sales tax in an account for major projects. The council voted to allocate the money to cleanup efforts.

Hemphill said the property owners would be special assessed for the costs. However, to proceed quickly, the city needs to pay the costs upfront. The property owners also may not pay or have the money to pay so the city would not get reimbursed.

The council also directed Hemphill to continue to seek other money that could go toward cleanup costs. One possibility is Community Development Community Block Grant-Disaster Recovery dollars. That money currently is committed to projects, but Hemphill said once those projects are completed, there may be money left over.