Tom and Brenda Bulger attended Monday night’s Milford Town Council meeting in the hopes of finding out what, if anything, can be done about the “eyesore” they’ve been living next to for 20 years.
The house at the corner of West and Fourth streets burned in an electrical fire in 1995. For the last five to 10 years it has remained uninhabited unless you count squirrels, raccoons and possums coming and going freely. “My opinion is that it’s a safety hazard to go in to,” Tom Bulger commented.
Then there was the vagrant who, according to Town Marshal Rich Miotto, briefly took up residence in the crumbling structure with broken windows and a caved-in roof.
Town Attorney Jay Rigdon answered questions from the Bulgers and council members Bob Cockburn, Doug Ruch and Dan Cochran about the town’s options moving forward.
When Cochran suggested higher rates and fines for not taking care of property, Rigdon discussed a scenario in which the town could eventually foreclose on a property “like a mortgage holder.” He informed the council the town ordinance gives them “ways of imposing a fine,” which could lead to Rigdon suing a negligent owner in court. According to Rigdon, the ensuing sheriff’s sale does provide the town with a way to shift ownership of a problem property, but, in some cases it might involve “doing something drastic” in situations when it’s unmerited.
When Ruch suggested the building inspector work closely with law enforcement, Rigdon stressed these issues rest “solely on the shoulders of the building inspector,” though law enforcement may be necessary in dealing with belligerent property owners.
Time will tell if the current inspector, Ken Brower, will succeed where past inspectors have not. And that success, in turn, depends on the building commissioner who, according to state code, is responsible for the hearings that substantiate the inspector’s findings.
Joe Shetler, the current commissioner, said in the past, issues were able to be “resolved by getting together with the owner and talking it out.” He declined further comment until a specific case was brought to his attention. Shetler may be leaving the position in September.
The fact Shetler has not been informed about these issues points to a definite lack of communication, possibly due to what Miotto called an “as needed” approach the town has taken to these positions. Also, as Rigdon said, “The pool you have to choose from is not large.”
Rigdon suggested there is “efficiency in volume,” and Milford should find a process that works for officials in cities like Elkhart and Warsaw which deal with higher numbers of cases.
Don Trammel, owner of the Party Pack Liquor Store on Higbee Street, commended the council for “taking on this issue.” Trammel said he has heard comments from “people who are not local” about the burned out Medina’s Body Shop building. For Trammel, the “perception of the town” is at stake.
Council President Cockburn and the council agreed. The problem of neglected buildings was called an “action item” and will be revisited at future meetings, starting June 8.