Hagerstown might be getting back into demolition.

At the Dec. 4 Town Council meeting, Rick Cole called one building a “two-story junk house that’s about ready to fall down.” It and a next-door house are a blight, he said. Cole, a former council member, recommended that the town building commissioner consider whether they should be categorized as unsafe buildings, subject to removal.

Town Manager Chris LaMar said he recently had a conversation about a blight-elimination program being developed by Sarah Mitchell of the Economic Development Corporation of Wayne County. He presented Mitchell with a short list of buildings that might be considered for demolition, including one that Cole mentioned. 

The town removed some houses a few years ago with money from a state-funded blight-elimination program that has since expired. The town also took down the historic Tri-County building when it became unsafe and the owner could not afford to fix or tear it down.

Mitchell said on Thursday that the new program is funded by $780,000 from the county’s Hoosiers Enduring Legacy Program, called HELP. She is meeting with representatives from seven communities to get ideas on program guidelines and develop “a portfolio of properties.” 

Mitchell said the program will include only vacant buildings. She does not know when the guidelines will be finished or when demolition might start.

Mitchell managed the City of Richmond’s blight-elimination program before going to work as economic development manager for EDC.

New housing also became a discussion topic. For many years, town leaders have been frustrated by a lack of newer housing. LaMar said that perhaps the EDC could offer help in attracting developers. Two housing developments in the past 20 years faced challenges that LaMar believes discourage investment by others. 

In a report to council about the Dec. 4 meeting of the EDC board, the town’s representative said he thinks the town needs to understand what it gets from EDC before agreeing to renew its participation. The town contributes half of the money it gets from a county Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT) to the EDC. Brad Robinson, who has represented the town for three years, said he does not see much benefit coming directly back to the town for the roughly $3,000 monthly contribution.

Council member Brian Longbons said, “We need to understand what they (the EDC) provide to the town.”

Council also approved a $20,000 one-year extension of the town’s fire protection contract with Jefferson Township. The current three-year contract expires Dec. 31. At a previous council meeting, township trustee Chris Lane asked for changes in it. The township and town hope to develop a new contract next year.

The council signed on to another way to collect utility bills left unpaid when people move away. Under a program called the Tax Refund Exchange and Compliance System, the town can collect unpaid electric and water bills of $25 or more from Indiana income tax refunds claimed by the person owing the money. The state will charge a $20 fee for each collection.

The town will also continue using traditional collection methods to recover unpaid bills, said Julie Neal, clerk-treasurer. 

Council President Becky Diercks also reappointed Sandi Campbell to the Hagerstown-Jefferson Township Library board. 

The next regular council meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, in Town Hall, 49 E. College St. It is delayed one day because of New Year’s Day. The public may attend.

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A version of this article appeared in the December 13 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Bob Hansen is a reporter for the Western Wayne News.