County Planning To Get Strict On Nuisance Properties

SNOW HILL – Nuisance properties cleaned up by Worcester County workers will now be liable for more charges over the work and will be subject to tax sale if the bill goes unpaid, the Worcester County Commissioners decided this week.

The county has been forced to clean up more nuisance properties than usual in the last several months after owners refused or were unable to remove excess personal property and vehicles from their land.

Nuisance properties, which tend to host large collections of untagged and defunct vehicles, boats, trash, tires and other debris, are widely seen as depressing local property values.

Recent nuisance abatement work included a multi-day clean-up and one in which two Sheriff’s deputies were called in to provide security for clean-up workers from the property owner.

County Finance Officer Harold Higgins suggested including hourly charges for the zoning inspector’s time, for landfill personnel if called to the site, deputies’ time if needed, benefits allocation for those employees and processing and administrative costs.

Until the commissioners’ unanimous vote this week, owners of nuisance properties were only billed for the standard clean-up work.

“We’re really trying to streamline that whole process,” said Higgins.

“I really think that whole cost should be recaptured,” said County Commission President Commissioner Louise Gulyas.

The commissioners also decided to charge for grass cutting and vegetation clearing from nuisance properties, which has not been the practice historically. Unpaid grass cutting fees would also be attached to the property as a lien and be subject to tax sale.

Tall grass is becoming a problem at foreclosed properties, said Commissioner Bud Church, a real estate agent, because the banks are not looking after the properties.

“There’s nobody living in those houses, and most times you’re not going to be able to find the lender … the banks are beginning to abandon properties,” Church said.

Lenders wanting to retain rights to those properties would have to pay grass cutting or clean-up charges before selling the property, said county attorney Sonny Bloxom.

The process to place liens on private properties and send those with unpaid liens to tax sale is already on the county’s books.