Q & A On Property Maintenance

September 15, 2020

In an effort to address the recent statements and concerns about the conditions of some of the properties in the City, we have put together the following Q and A. Please keep in mind that the City must abide by certain laws concerning private property rights. Another thing that we must keep in mind is that parts of our City are designated Historic Districts and that adds another layer of regulations that have to be considered. The City has been involved in the process to demolish Jack’s Men’s Store on Broadway for some time and we are getting to the point of getting final approval from the State to move forward with the project.  Mayor Washington had to go to Trenton and make our case to the Historic Preservation Office to get that done.  It has been a long, long process for just one building.

We will address properties both City owned and privately owned.

City owned vacant properties:

Why does the City own these vacant properties? The City has taken ownership through foreclosure due to the property owner not paying their real estate taxes.

Why take possession and not just leave the properties in the owner’s name?  Even if the property owner is not paying taxes to the City, the City is still responsible for paying the school and County taxes due on that property. With an average house assessment at $65,000, the total taxes due would be $4,594.85. The combined school and County taxes would be $2,251.48. If the City takes possession of those properties, they become non-ratable and we do not have to pay the School and County taxes. The City would save over two thousand dollars for each property.  Multiply that by the number of privately owned properties where people have just walked away and that is a considerable amount of money. Another reason for taking possession is that the City then has better control over the future use of that property.

What is the downside of taking possession of these properties? Once we take possession, then the City becomes responsible for maintaining the property.  Currently our Streets Department maintains almost 40 properties not counting vacant properties. The City owns almost 200 vacant properties and maintaining all of them on a regular basis can take some time. We have a plan that will be implemented next year to use Vacant Property Registration fees to hire outside contractors to cut grass and clean up vacant properties. Due to government regulations, we cannot use those funds until 2021.

Privately owned properties:

What does the City do to get private property owners to maintain their properties? The City Code Enforcement Officer will issue a warning to the property owner and they would then have 10 days to comply. If the violation is not corrected, the property owner would be issued a court summons.  Then it is up to the court to assess fines or other penalties. In Salem, we are faced with a situation where some of these people do not bother to show up in court. In those cases, our officer will issue additional summonses, but that usually leads to the same result.

Why doesn’t the City just go in and clean-up those privately owned properties when the owners do not maintain them? The City cannot go onto private property unless all legal steps have been taken including proper notice that the City intends to remediate the property and lien the property for the expense.  We are currently moving in a direction where we will be taking more properties to that step, but that just leads to the issue of who do we get to clean up the property.  If we use City employees, we take them away from their other areas of responsibility.  If we use outside contractors, again where do we get the funds to pay for that cost. Next year, we will be in a better position to hire outside contractors for these properties. I mentioned that we can lien the property owner for the clean-up cost, but experience with some of these property owners tells us that we will never see that money. Eventually the liens and past due taxes will get to an amount where the City will have to look at foreclosing on the property.

What is the City doing to address these issues with City and privately owned properties?  Mayor Washington, Council President Gage and the members of City Council have made cleaning up the City a top priority and these are the steps that the City is taking to deal with these issues:

  1. Hiring additional personnel for the Code Enforcement Office.
  2. Being diligent in following up on violations not remediated and issuing additional summonses.
  3. Taking each case to the level where liens can be placed on the property.
  4. Using Vacant Property Registration fees to cover clean-up expenses.
  5. Using our Clean Communities Grant Funds to pay for clean-ups.
  6. Organizing citizen clean-ups through our Clean Communities Coordinator.
  7. Investigating purchasing cameras to monitor illegal dumping sites throughout the City.
  8. Using County resources like the inmate work programs to do clean-ups.
  9. The City hired a Commerce Director to address our housing issues and he has worked diligently to develop projects that will help with the overall appearance of the City, Good things are happening in that area.
  10. Coordinating with our Public Works staff to target problem areas and developing plans to address them through code Enforcement or clean-up projects.
  11. Mayor Washington has worked very hard on addressing housing issues in the City. He developed the NTI program that promotes home ownership of properties that the City owns. This is a double win for the City as it gets these properties off the City owned list and helps people go through the process of acquiring and owning a home. Home ownership is a key to Salem’s future success. Information on the NTI Program is available on the City website under the Economic Development tab.
  12. In 2018 the City demolished 15 buildings at a cost of over $260,000.
  13. The Governing Body budgeted money this year to demolish additional sites and is currently putting together a new list for consideration.
  14. The City held a trash amnesty week that allowed residents to put out trash without using stickers. This helped the City remove a large amount of debris from our neighborhoods.

We understand that this is an important issue for the City residents and we are working hard every day to tackle this problem.  We are always open to input from our residents.  You can email our City Administrator at .

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Mayor Charles Washington Jr.
Council President Earl Gage
Councilman Timothy Gregory
Councilwoman Sharon Kellum
Councilwoman Ruth Carter
Councilwoman Gail Slaughter
Councilman Vaughn Groce
Councilman Jim Smith
Councilman Robert Davis
Ben Angeli, City Administrator