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Kanawha commission approves $1 million house demolition project

This spring and summer, Kanawha County officials hope to demolish dozens of dilapidated houses throughout the county.

At its regular meeting Thursday, the Kanawha County Commission approved using $1 million on a demolition program to raze up to 114 houses.

The county uses 100 percent of its building permit fees for the demolition of dilapidated structures, county Planning Director Steve Neddo said. The county currently has more than $375,000 in building fees on hand, which it will leverage with an interest-free loan from the West Virginia Housing Development Fund. Altogether, the county plans to spend around $1 million to demolish the structures.

Fourteen structures are ready to be torn down, Neddo said. Final inspections are being done for another 67 properties, which would be approved by the commission before demolition, he said. A total of 168 structures meet the requirements of the county’s public nuisance ordinance to be torn down.

Neddo said the houses on the list are uninhabited and damaged. Some have been burned and others are used by squatters and for drug activities, he said.

“These are not homes,” Neddo said. “They shouldn’t be called homes; they’re beyond really being able to be fixed, most of them.”

The houses to be demolished are in unincorporated areas of the county, but Neddo said the county also hopes to reach out to some of the smaller cities in the county to demolish properties there, too.

A house costs an average of $8,800 to demolish, Neddo said. The county puts a lien on properties to pay for the demolition when owners do not pay for it themselves, Neddo said.

Commission President Kent Carper said the county has dedicated its building fees for demolition for at least a decade. The county has never had a serious compliant about the program, nor has it had to force people from their homes, he said.

Neddo said the demolition process usually takes between 100 and 120 days and homeowners are given up to three notices before the house is brought to an enforcement board for consideration.

Also Thursday, commissioners approved the county’s $51.4 million budget. This year’s budget calls for spending about $300,000 more than last year’s budget, finance director Kim Fleck said.

Carper said the budget spending increases still are “minuscule” compared with other governments.

“Most times when folks pass their budget they don’t want to mention how much they’re increasing spending,” Carper said. “Around here we talk about it.”

Carper said of the $300,000 increase in spending, $200,000 is for the jail. The county can’t do much to control spending on the jail, he said.

Carper said he would recommend that county employees get raises this year for the first time in three years. To that end, the commission is setting aside $500,000.

Carper said before the commission will decide whether or not to award raises, officials will take into consideration what the state Legislature does that might affect the county, the county’s cash flow and its actual versus estimated tax collection. The commission is set to vote on the potential raises at a meeting in July.

In other business:

n Carper asked Patti Hamilton, director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, to write a letter to the Legislature expressing disapproval of legislation that would put in place strict photo ID requirements for voters. Carper said he is not aware of any cases in West Virginia of in-person voter fraud, which is what proponents of the legislation say it would fix.

“We can get tough on interstellar life forms, too, but there isn’t any,” Carper said.

Carper called the legislation an attempt to suppress voters and said it would deter legitimate voters from coming to the polls.

“I’ve said it many times,” Hamilton said.

But Hamilton was reluctant to write a letter opposing the bill. She said given that the legislation is unlikely to pass, she doesn’t want to anger lawmakers who may support other bills that would benefit counties in the state. Hamilton said she would discuss with her board the possibility of writing the letter.

Hamilton also spoke about the current version of automatic voter registration legislation that would require people to opt-out of the voter registration process at the Division of Motor Vehicles if they don’t want to register. Hamilton said the DMV offices do not have the software needed for automatic voter registration. (She later clarified her group isn’t against automatic voter registration, but wants to delay the implementation date from July 1 of this year.)

n Commissioners voted to give a one-time donation of $25,000 to the Enact program for a summer work camp that will focus on flood relief efforts in the Clendenin and Elkview areas.

n Commissioner Ben Salango gave an update on a proposal to build a multi-million dollar sports complex at Shawnee Park in Dunbar. The county parks commission accepted a bid from Charleston-based ZMM architectural firm to study the proposed sports complex for $35,000.

n Commissioners agreed to apply for a court security grant and a juvenile delinquency prevention grant. The latter would benefit Prestera Center.

Reach Lori Kersey

at lori.kersey@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1240 or follow

@LoriKerseyWV on Twitter.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify the West Virginia Association of Counties’ position on automatic voter registration.

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