Neglected properties

A Minot legislator is proposing that the City of Minot receive $1 million in state funds to help address abandoned, flood-damaged properties.

Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, said he has drafted a bill that would give the city the funds necessary to clean up neglected properties. The city still would assess the costs back to the property owner.

“It’s not a grant to a property owner. It’s something they are going to have to pay back,” he said. As the city recoups costs through these assessments, the money would go to the Minot Park District to assist with projects there.

Louser said the issue of abandoned houses didn’t come to the forefront until too late to be addressed by the 2013 Legislature. But he believes there is an opportunity to address it in 2015, and by drafting the legislation early, the chance for public input is increased.

“I just don’t want a situation where we get to the Legislature and at the last minute, put a bill together,” Louser said. “The best chance for success is to have something that’s vetted and well thought out.”

He said discussion already is generating additional ideas, such as including funding for a temporary staff position at the city to manage the cleanup of properties.

Under the bill, the city would continue to send out notices when properties are found to be public nuisances or dangerous, in accordance with its ordinances. Property owners would be expected to respond by performing the abatements needed. However, if no action is taken, the city could abate problems spending up to $10,000 per property from the $1 million and assess the costs to the owners.

Although the city has had difficulty at times in locating owners or getting them to take responsibility, Louser said these hurdles eventually could be overcome, particularly as forclosures move forward. However, in the meantime, the bill would provide money for the city to do some work immediately. Owners also would have a number of years to gradually pay the city back through the special assessments.

Louser said he hopes to include an emergency clause, which would allow money to be released immediately if the bill is passed and signed by the governor. The clause would require a super-majority vote of the House and Senate to pass the bill.

The bill should be attractive to legislators because the money does double duty, Louser said. As the city collects special assessments on its initial investment of the state money, those proceeds would go to the park district for projects. The bill currently places no specific requirements on the park board for how the dollars must be spent. Louser said the consideration that the park district is giving to improvements and enhancements at its once-flooded parks could lead to good uses for the money.