In brainstorming ways to eliminate the blight in the city of Marion, City Council revisited the idea of starting a “mow-to-own” program.

The potential program would allow those living next to city owned lots to use “sweat equity” to pay for the lots, according to councilwoman Robin Fouce. Some residents have already been mowing, weeding and cleaning up city owned lots for years, and this program would give them the opportunity to obtain the land they already maintain.

Currently, those living next to a city owned lot can purchase the land for around $800, mayor Jess Alumbaugh said.

Fouce called the program a “win-win” because the city would save money on resources currently being used to maintain the lots and the residents would be able to own the land. Council presented Deb Cain added that the city would also gain in the end because the landowners would begin paying taxes on the land.

“Right now they are just sitting there with no money coming in,” Cain said. “We’re paying contractors to mow these lots. We’re extending out and getting nothing back.”

The program would include a contract or agreement between the city and the neighboring landowners specifying the amount of time in which the lot would need to be maintained before it is handed over, Cain said.

Both Fouce and Alumbaugh mentioned separately that they knew of Marion residents that have been mowing city lots next to their houses for more than 15 years.

Cain said she had heard of a similar program in another city in which the city gave residents houses with the requirement that they live in the house and that the home improvements totaled a minimum of three times the assessed value.

According to Janet Pearson, the city property manager, the city had more than 900 lots in 2010, and currently has around 300 lots. Pearson said the city already sold the properties with safe structures but has a few lots with structures waiting to be demolished.

Cain also mentioned a city in Pennsylvania that encouraged residents to track down the owners of vacant homes and ask them to sign the house over to them, which was effective in eliminating blight in the area.

However, councilman Brad Luzadder noted that “Once it becomes a city property, the rules are different.”

“The city is not to be in the real estate business,” Luzadder said, questioning if it is legally possible to do anything similar with city-owned properties.

Alumbaugh said he would be in support of the program if he knew that it was in line with Indiana law.

Cain said the council first brought the idea up two years ago during budget hearings, but the idea “slipped through the cracks.”
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