One down, 35 to go.
"That's my goal," David Garavalia said. "36 houses in 36 months."
Garavalia is the zoning and economic development administrator the city of Benton. In that capacity, he has set a goal to rid the city of dilapidated, unoccupied homes.
The houses he is targeting are abandoned and taking up space on the county tax rolls. The first house to come down at 220 Madison St. was also a danger.
"Whoever lived here didn't pay their taxes or moved away or died and this went up for tax sale with the Franklin County trustee," Garavalia said. "The tax buyers, none of them bought this place."
The trustee bought the property and obtained the tax deed after paying about three years of taxes. The house and property failed to sell at auction for a minimum of $646.
"Even though it was list on the Internet and the whole world had an opportunity to bid, no one bought it," Garavalia said. "The city of Benton, in infinite wisdom, used the thought process that if you can avoid court, delay, costs and time, and just go ahead and buy this for $600 and pay $46 to record the deed, then you can do what you want with it."
Garavalia said the original plan was to bid out the house for demolition, but that plan changed about two weeks ago.
"Unfortunately, a week ago Sunday this place caught fire," Garavalia said. "Apparently it was an arson job."
Garavalia said the fire happened at 1 a.m.
"There's two suspects under investigation now," he said. "Apparently somebody came through the back and spread some type of flammable and the thing caught fire."
According to Garavalia, there was no electricity or gas connected to the house.
The Benton Fire Department responded to the call.
"Fortunately (Fire Chief) Shane Cockrum and his men were able to put the fire out and save the house next door," Garavalia said.
Garavalia said the city was planning to bid out the house, along with eight or nine others, for demolition.
"We had to hurry on this one," he said. "We're not going to have a house that looks like this one," he added, citing safety concerns.
"We don't expect citizens to have houses that look like this, either," Garavalia said. "If you can't take care of your property, the city of Benton will do it for you."
Garavalia said his personal goal is 36 houses in 36 months.
Purchasing properties for taxes makes more sense financially, according to Garavalia. Such a measure saves not only time, but also court costs and other legal fees that can add up to several thousand dollars.
Garavalia said he considered this property to be an emergency demolition.
"Normally, we would bid this out, but we didn't have time to wait on this," he said.
He said he contacted three local people who had done previous work for the city to perform the demolition on an emergency basis.
"We got three bids and took the lowest bid," he said.
Garavalia said once the property is cleaned up, it will sold at auction.
"This is a nice neighborhood and it will be nicer once this is cleaned up," he said.
He said that completing work like this will ultimately increase property values.
"Somebody can build a house on these lots," he said. "The property will be returned back to the tax base. Otherwise, it's just sitting generating zero."
The property will be for sale in June along with several other properties currently held by the city. The date for the sale has not yet been set.
A & P Excavation is completing the demolition.
Cleaning up Benton, one dilapidated house at a time
One down, 35 to go.