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Springville Village Board is cracking down on distressed properties

ALL SHORED UP AND READY TO GO — The future Art’s Cafe property at 5 East Main St. in Springville is pictured, stabilized for renovation. Photo by Lizz Schumer.
SPRINGVILLE — After the demolition of the former Springville Hotel last month, village officials have been gathering information on other distressed properties and how to mitigate those problems, before destruction is the only option.

The village of Springville Board of Trustees has designated 128 properties as distressed and, as of its July 15 meeting, is taking action to get them back into shape, before it becomes too late.

According to Village Administrator Tim Horner, of those 128 locations, 39 have been designated as vacant, 43 have unpaid taxes, 36 present maintenance issues and 10 are exhibiting signs of owner hoarding. Horner also noted that there is overlap in the area of property maintenance, in each of those categories, with 72 total properties’ presenting maintenance problems. The village officials will focus on those 72, or 56 percent of the problem, to start.

“It’s been a topic of ongoing discussion, after we authorized the appointment of a distressed property tax force, almost two years ago,” Horner said. “The concept of code enforcement is relatively new. New York state adopted, with some modification, the International Building Code, in 2002. Education of the public can be the most effective tool that a [code enforcement officer] has at his disposal. Code infractions often exist because people do not realize that what they are doing is against the law.”

Horner added that he has found it “difficult to educate our local judicial courts, when asked to hear and rule on a code violation, brought to them by [CEO Michael Kaleta]” and that the declines in property values, reducing visual clutter and preserving quality of life are what prompted the village government to form the task force and why it is taking more active steps, now.

In a stated effort to “better inform residents of code enforcement actions on properties,” the trustees passed a resolution to post code action signs on those properties that are violating the ordinances, as well as publishing statements about their being in violation, in the Springville Journal.

“We want people to see these signs, to know the village is aware of the violation and has notified the property owner,” Horner said. “Residents typically do not know the village is aware of a situation, and the signs help to bring out that awareness and let the public know the property owner has a fixed amount of time, to correct the violation or face penalties.”

In addition, the trustees voted to pursue foreclosure action on all properties that are carrying more than two years of unpaid taxes.

“We will also continue to provide the property owners with a letter, copies of the code and give them a period of time to take action,” Horner said. “If they inform us that they have a contractor and are working on fixing the problem, that’s fine. But it’s important to note that none of these properties are new [problem areas]. In almost all cases, [the CEO] has already sent them a dozen letters.”

Springville Mayor William Krebs said that these new efforts are in line with the Springville Property Rehabilitation Program that the village government has been rolling out, in recent months. That initiative has included the clean-up day in May, the Fix-Up Fair in June and other efforts.

“We have reached out to the community and will continue to reach out, to ask the residents of the village to keep these many properties in good repair, to perform maintenance, before these severe code violations become an issue,” he noted.

Krebs added that, in the event of foreclosure action, the village has recently seen a “complete 180” in Erie County’s attitude toward foreclosures.

“The county has let us know that municipalities, including Springville, should let them know which properties we want action on. This is an acknowledgement that tax liens are contingent to problems [with property maintenance]. This would prevent the problem, where properties sit for six, seven, eight years, without foreclosure,” Krebs said. “Part of our process is going to be to identify properties and start working, very early, on foreclosure.”

Trustee Nils Wikman expressed concern about the amount of time these actions would take and the impact on Kaleta’s schedule and the CEO’s ability to handle the increased workload.

“This is a big issue. Mike has to handle all code issues, not just violations,” he said, adding that hiring an additional, part-time CEO might reduce Kaleta’s workload. “I would hate to go through another season with no action. When someone calls in, it would be nice to have that resource, to be able to make things happen. It’s a time-consuming problem.”

Although Horner said that hiring a part-time CEO would be possible, that position has not been budgeted for this year and will not be pursued, at this time.

The new property tax code violation responses will be effective immediately. Kaleta will notify the owners of the 72 designated properties of their inclusion and requesting that repairs take place, to prevent further action.
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