City needed to take action on the 815 building

The situation of the 815 building is best compared to that of a rotting tooth an insurance company refuses to pay to be removed. Repairing it costs money. Yanking it also costs money. So one avoids the problem, leaves it alone until the gumline gets infected and after damaging another tooth, it gets pulled.

Like a mouth, now Newton’s downtown has a gap in its smile.

The 815 building had been falling apart for a long time. But it took a large section of its wall collapsing on a nearby building and severely damaging that roof before the city made its determination to tear the building down.

Newton taxpayers likely will end up paying around $60,000 to tear down the property. The city does not believe it will recoup the cost from the property’s owners, though it will try.

And there’s no way around saying this, the city office and past and present city commissions do not come out of the situation looking rosy. Such things are easy to say after the fact.

The story of the building’s demise and the attempt by tenants and the owner of the adjacent building to get something done about it, has been in the regional and local news recently.

The building’s owner Stephen Owens, as well as Gina Corrigan, who rents his building for her hair and tanning salon, both have been vocal in calling for the city to take care of the problem.

Rocks damaged their roof. Corrigan had to close part of her business because of safety concerns, and

outside of buying the nearby building and fixing it or destroying it himself, Owens had no other outlet to solve the problem, but to be vocal.

Owens kept saying if the city didn’t do something the building was going to fall down on his roof and severely damage his building. Owens claimed he’s been beating the same drum for years.

The city almost made a decision to do something about the building, before what looked like a private solution appeared, and the decision was delayed another two weeks.

Then a massive chunk of wall came down upon Owens’ roof.

Now Owens is left with a really expensive “I-told-you-so” opportunity. It’s good he has insurance but unfortunate to see the problem progressed so far without a solution.

The city commission received a lot of pressure from constituents on this issue, and in that sense, there was no way to make everyone happy.

Many wanted it to spend money on the problem and fix it.

But commission member Leroy Koehn repeatedly discussed receiving pressure from residents not to spend money on the building. Budgets are a huge concern locally, with added pressure from the state and a looming property tax cap.

Had the city bought it and rehabbed it, some folks would have complained about the waste. Had the city bought it before it collapsed and tore it down, some folks would have viewed the move as unnecessary.

And as the city waited for it to start falling before doing anything, it will now get a bit of blame for its own inaction.

This situation spurs a discussion, of what philosophically is the role of city government.

The building was a private property. The city had no legal requirements to do anything on it. Even now the city wouldn’t have to spend the money to tear it down.

But it finally has decided to.

At the end of the story, it is just for the city to remove the building.

We all, living in a free society, make a social contract with our governments, giving up a certain amount of liberty in exchange for certain services, and protections. One of those protections we assume would be to operate a business legally within the city without the threat of nearby buildings collapsing on you.

We pay property taxes to the city. If we don’t pay these taxes, the city can take our property. We have code inspections from the city. If the city doesn’t OK those inspections, we don’t get building permits or construction can be shut down. If we commit a crime, the city can go on our property to arrest us. All of these rules protect our property and our safety.

While we like to see that government be as hands-off as possible, there comes a time where the cost and buck has to stop somewhere. No one else wanted to or could step up. For the safety of residents, taxpayers and the appearance of the downtown, the city needed to take action.

We either agree with that or we shrug our shoulders and let one building collapse on another and just sit there in our downtown.

And while some people might suggest that, in the same situation, most would be asking the city for help if someone else’s property was destroying theirs, and they had no other means of solving the problem.

It’s good something will finally be done about the 815 building. It’s just unfortunate that action didn’t come six months ago, or two years ago, or 10 years ago.

We’ve said this before, but this entire story serves as a lesson on the dangers of kicking the can, or stone, down the road.

—Newton Now Editorial Board

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