Liens stacking up for properties

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- A push by city leaders to remove or repair blighted property appears to be having the desired effect, but liens against property owners meant to recover some of the costs of the demolition work are largely going unpaid.

According to city documents obtained Tuesday by The Albany Herald, 153 properties throughout the city either have been demolished or are in line to be.

Of those, 60 have been razed either by city Public Works officials or the property owner, or have been burned during training for the Albany Fire Department personnel.

The city has filed 51 liens against those 60 demolished properties for a total of more than $389,000. To date, only three of the property owners have paid their respective liens for a combined $13,698.

Under Georgia law, City Attorney Nathan Davis says, by placing a lien on the property and not taking ownership of it, the city is limited in its ability to force the property owner to pay.

"Fi-fas (liens) are paid if the property owner rehabilitates the property or sells it, then we can collect," Davis told the commission Tuesday.

Despite the fact that the commission knew when it appropriated the funding to demolish the properties that recovering the funding would be tough, some on the board on Tuesday aired concerns that perhaps more should be done to help offset the costs of demolishing the structures.

Commissioner Jon Howard, who has been a driving force behind the demolition effort, said he has concerns that many of the properties that have been demolished are owned by individuals who don't live in Albany and who have shown no interest in fixing or selling the properties.

For example, White Development LLC owned the properties at 403, 405, 407, 409, 411, 413, 415 and 417 Whitney Avenue and 314 Westbrook Drive, which were all demolished July 13, 2009. The city has filed a lien against the properties for $41,044.22.

White Development -- whose principal agent, Michael A. White, lives in Rome, Ga. -- is listed as being in noncompliance with the Georgia Secretary of State's office.

One option, Davis told commissioners, is to foreclose on the liens and, if they don't pay, take ownership. But that could take the properties off the tax rolls until the city is able to sell the property to a willing developer.

Some on the commission seem willing to look at taking action to try to recover the funding.

"We spend mega-bucks to tear these buildings down and then have to wait years to get the money, if we get it at all," Commissioner Tommie Postell said. "There's got to be something either through taxes or taking it or something."