Saving Money For Taxpayers

Let’s hope demolition of the old Imperial Pools building in East Wheeling does not encourage owners of other dilapidated structures to allow them to continue deteriorating.

Wheeling officials revealed this week they have taken ownership of the Imperial Pools building from its former owner. The city will spend about $48,000 to have the crumbling, dangerous eyesore razed.

City Manager Robert Herron explained the building’s former owner deeded it over to the city after multiple building code violation proceedings in municipal court. City officials decided allowing the former owner to do that was preferable to another method of dealing with dilapidated buildings that have to be demolished at city expense.

In such cases, liens are placed against the property in the hope that at some point, the city can recoup at least part of of the cost of demolition.

This situation was different, however. Had the city gone that route, delays in arranging for demolition would have been costly. The plan is for a company already working on a project in East Wheeling to raze the Imperial Pools building through what amounts to an addition to its contract with the city. Having the work done separately could have pushed the cost up to $67,000 – $19,000 more than will be paid under the current arrangement.

In addition, it could have been years before the city realized any money by placing a lien on the property, Herron notes.

Still, the deal allows the building’s former owner to walk away from it with no liability to the city. Owners of other dangerous buildings may be tempted to ignore raze or repair orders on unsalvageable structures, in the hope they can make similar deals and save some money.

City officials should waste no time in disabusing them of that notion. When the city must pay to have buildings razed, officials should take whatever action is necessary to minimize the cost to taxpayers. In this situation, Herron believes that was accomplished by not attempting to collect from the building’s owner.

But in the vast majority of cases, using the lien process is better – and scofflaw building owners should be made aware in no uncertain terms that is how the city will proceed.