Send those cleanup bills

Johnson City Press • Nov 15, 2019 at 7:00 AM

Washington County residents should be fed up with their nasty neighbors, especially when cleanup costs eat into the taxes they pay the county each year.

As Senior Reporter Robert Houk reported in Thursday’s edition, Finance and Administration Director Mitch Meredith told Budget Committee members it had been a “big year” for court-ordered cleanups the county has undertaken on private properties. County records show that $162,750 in liens had been placed on property in recent years to settle cleanup costs, but just $61,228 had been recovered.

The county places a lien against the property to recover cleanup costs, but reimbursement doesn’t come until the property is sold. Commissioner Jim Wheeler said it may take “two generations” before a family sells the property and settles a lien.

County Mayor Joe Grandy is right when he says the county should consider attaching a bill for that work to such a property owner’s tax statement.

The Budget Committee voted Wednesday to consider a new recovery process, but Senior County Attorney Allyson Wilkinson told committee members she was researching the legal issues involved. She said the authority to attach such bills is not directly defined under the county trustee’s duties in state law.

We certainly hope the law allows the county to add the bills. If not, our local legislators should take that up in the next session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

Neglected and littered properties are a blight on a community, and any weapon the county can use toward deterring negligent ownership would be a plus.

As we’ve stated in the past, we are blessed with an incredible environment to enjoy in Northeast Tennessee, yet many of us treat it like one vast landfill. It’s a shame that taxpayers have to foot the bill for irresponsible and downright contemptible behavior. Ownership does not give you carte blanche privilege to affect both the environment and your neighbors’ property values.

Local governments need all the ammunition they can get.