New ‘Clean Up Clinton County’ program eyes at least 50 blighted parcels

By Gary Huffenberger -

WILMINGTON — A new attorney assigned to help enforce a cleanup project in Clinton County said there are at least 50 cases of “incredibly blighted and tax-delinquent properties.”

Justin Dickman and his boss Clinton County Prosecuting Attorney Richard “Rick” W. Moyer met Monday with county commissioners to update them on Dickman’s work, five weeks into the job.

“We’re going after the most blighted, arguably public-health issues with high, long delinquencies for their property taxes,” Dickman said.

He added the new program called Clean Up Clinton County is not trying to pick one geographic location in the county, but rather is attempting to spread it out through the various Clinton County townships and villages.

Clinton County Commissioners President Kerry R. Steed said in January that commissioners in traveling around the county have on numerous occasions heard that it’s time to clean things up and put some enforcement teeth into dealing with non-compliant property owners.

Dickman was hired to spend most of his time on blighted properties, delinquent taxes, and zoning. He told commissioners on Monday one of the areas of concern when it comes to blighted properties is that part of the county’s zoning legislation.

Accordingly, he and Moyer presented a proposed, revised “Article 10, Blighted Properties” portion of the county’s zoning resolution that reportedly will go before both the Clinton County Regional Planning Commission and the county commissioners.

The revised Article 10 will enable the county to deal with some of the challenges of blight in a way it can enforce in court, according to Dickman.

“It gives us a little bit more teeth to address blighted properties where owners don’t want to move forward and make positive changes,” he said. “Obviously they still [would] have their day in court; they still [would] have the opportunity to due process.”

County officials want property owners to work with them, he said, but when they do not, the “Blighted Properties” part of the zoning legislation provides the county the option to contract out and clean up those properties. Any costs associated with that clean-up would be assessed on those property owners’ tax assessment rolls.

With respect to the proposed changes to “Article 10, Blighted Properties”, some of its language has been tightened up and definitions included, Dickman said. The definitions, according to Moyer, are intended to help everyone understand more clearly whether a particular parcel has the condition or conditions to be legally classed a “blighted parcel.”

Also on the table is a provision named “Securing Fire Insurance Proceeds”.

Dickman said sometimes when there is an older-property house fire, the owner takes the fire insurance money and runs. Under the proposed provision, it’s stated the county has the statutory authority to hold a portion of insurance proceeds in escrow to ensure the house is removed so that there won’t be a burnt-out blighted house, he said.

On another matter, Dickman said he is not making a recommendation but he wants commissioners to know there are people who are afraid to file a written complaint regarding a blighted property.

“And I think that they’re justifiably afraid,” the assistant prosecutor said.

Commissioners may want to consider allowing such complaints to be made anonymously, he added. The county currently doesn’t take anonymous complaints.

At present, Dickman has seven “target properties.”

Subject to the local Land Bank’s approval, a burned-out property in Westboro was acquired March 6, he reported.

“We want to work with property owners, as opposed to foreclosure,” he said.

At the close of the meeting, Moyer mentioned that people have been dropping off photos, showing houses near their own.

Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.

By Gary Huffenberger