City of Hannibal looks at taxpayer cost for demolition of abandoned properties

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Mayor Pro Tem Mike Dobson talks to fellow Hannibal City Council members about taxpayer burden of tearing down derelict properties. Megan Duncan

HANNIBAL, Mo. —  A conversation began Tuesday night at the Hannibal City Council meeting regarding the burden of derelict properties on Hannibal taxpayers.

The city of Hannibal currently lists nearly 70 private properties and vacant lots owned by the city, with three scheduled for demolition. 

“Presently we tear down these old houses and end up either attaching a footing lien to the property or in some cases we sell them for $575,” read a memo attached to the city council agenda. ‘The $575 covers the recording fees but does not compensate the city and the tax payer of the cost of the demolition.”

According to Mayor Pro Tem Mike Dobson, the private structures cost around $10,000 to $15,000 to tear down. He reported that more than a dozen structures were demolished last year.

Demolition of large abandoned properties not on the list—such as Old St. Elizabeth’s Hospital—are estimated to cost millions.

“We have seen that eventually these buildings deteriorate over the years and parties that assumed these large buildings in good faith cannot afford to maintain them.

“Look at our community. I can think of the old hospital, at least two former churches and a couple of old schools that fall into this category,” Dobson said.

Dobson believes the city needs to be “more proactive rather than reactive” when dealing with abandoned structures in Hannibal. He acknowledged the effort would not change the current situation with abandoned properties, but could make a big difference down the road.

Dobson suggested requiring proof of insurance for structures when paying county taxes. 

For those who aren’t required to have insurance, he mentioned an obligation bond to hold the building owner responsible for demolition costs.

Third ward councilman Stephan Franke suggested they look at the situation in two parts. 

“Let’s look at the commercial buildings. Maybe above a certain square footage, and once we have a better idea of what we can and cannot do—or what we can or cannot enforce—then we will know more about what we can do on a residential,”  Franke said.

“Right now I am looking for the bigger fish with bigger buildings,” Dobson said. 

Hannibal City Attorney James Lemon plans to research the topic, but his biggest concern was stepping on property owners rights if “we start telling people ‘you must do this, you must do that.”                                             

“Are we interning with their property rights to a level that exceeds our normal police power?” He asked.

Lemon said he plans to look at the St. Louis area to see if they have done anything similar. 

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