By MATT HOPF
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Changes suggested to the city of Quincy's "fix-or-flatten" program last week were not surprising since the program has been under increased scrutiny because of the Quincy Paper Box building saga.
The June 28 decision by the City Council to not fund nearly $74,000 in court-ordered repairs prompted city officials to pull the plug on the program, which it has utilized to deal with dilapidated and dangerous properties since 1993.
That moved aldermen to later reverse that decision, order more bids and hire a contractor to complete the repairs to the structure at Third and Vermont. Aldermen now are in the process of trying to make the program part of the city code and to require a City Council vote on whether to suspend the program in the future. Aldermen would also like to approve a list of properties being considered for the fiscal year to gain a better understanding of the possible costs.
When the fix-or-flatten program was suspended in June, most aldermen expressed disappointment. Some suggested city officials overreacted to a vote that centered on the cost and the fact that a contractor was working on the property -- albeit slowly and more than six months after the court-imposed deadline had elapsed.
City officials noted that such a move would have not been necessary had the council not broken precedent and followed the court order issued in July 2010 -- especially since veteran aldermen were well aware of the long-standing problems associated with the property and others owned by Don Weinberg.
This was not the first time some aldermen have had questions about the program, however.
The council voted 8-5 in May sell 2731 Chestnut to the second-highest bidder. Niemann General Contracting Inc. was able to buy the property for $4,000 on the condition that a new single-family home be built by March 31, 2013. Another bidder offered $500 more, but that plan called for adjoining it to a neighboring property for additional yard space.
Dissenting aldermen thought the highest bidder should have received the property, but one of the biggest factors in the final decision was what would be most advantageous to the city and other taxing bodies.
If a single-family home is built on the property, it would mean anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 in additional annual tax money for local taxing bodies. Additional yard space, meanwhile, would net only about $200 more.
Building a new home on a property in the fix-or-flatten program isn't a requirement. In June, the city agreed to sell 826 and 836 N. 10th to a party that planned to use them as a garden and flower bed. City officials said the width of the properties made it difficult to build a new single-family home there.
The city also agreed to sell 1316 N. Fifth in April to the Adams County Mental Health and Retardation Association for additional green space.
The city usually attempts to get around $1,500 per property, the approximate cost for it to obtain a property through the fix-or-flatten program. The city has sold some properties in recent months for less, but the properties are now back on the tax roll and city crews are no longer having to maintain them -- both financial gains.