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Editorial: More bang for tax bucks

Spencer Town Manager Larry Smith said last week that if the owner of a burned-out, trash-ridden house on 17th Street doesn’t respond to a certified letter about the condition of the property within a week, the city will step in and clean it up for him.
That’s nice. But it would have been nicer if Spencer officials had taken action sooner on the abandoned structure, especially for the other Spencer residents who have had to look at it every day for the past year and a half. Those people include Clement Radcliff, who lives beside the house and who can’t even bring his grandchildren out to play without being assaulted by what he calls “just an eyesore.”
And that it is. It’s not just that the house has never been repaired after the fire, leaving building materials dangling from charred holes in its side, boards nailed over its doors and windows and bright-yellow police tape still fluttering in the wind from a porch rail. That would be bad enough. But behind the house lies a debris field made up of box springs, blankets and other things that probably were once used inside the house but are now just molding garbage.
A tree has fallen in the front yard, though the grass that Radcliff says has been mowed only one time in the last year should at least partially obscure that.
Radcliff says he’s contacted Spencer officials about the mess next door, but hasn’t really gotten an answer about when the problem might be resolved. That’s not what he wants to hear. “Hey, I’m paying taxes,” he says. “There’s no bang for your buck, no bang for your buck.”
Smith says there are no easy answers and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for a municipality to deal with nuisances like the one Radcliff has to look at every day. For one thing, Smith says, it’s often difficult to determine exactly who owns a property after it’s heavily damaged by fire. Is it the person who owned it before the blaze? Is it the insurance company? It takes time to find the answer. And it often takes a property owner longer to settle with an insurance company than the 180 days Spencer allows for repairing a burned house.
Some circumstances truly are beyond a city’s control. But 180 days ó six months ó is a long way from the year and a half that Radcliff and his family have put up with the eyesore next door. Cities have options that can prevent headaches from lasting this long. They can clean up the mess then place a lien on the property so Radcliff and other residents don’t have to suffer because of the absentee owner of a burned, trashed and ignored house.
He’d probably rather the city had used some of his tax dollars to do it sooner. For a guy and his grandkids, that would have been bang for the buck.

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