Controversial ordinance tabled

Published 9:33 am Friday, February 19, 2016

The Bogalusa City Council held a lengthy and at times contentious meeting Tuesday.

The issue up for debate was a proposed change in the city’s adjudicated property ordinance. The change would allow homeowners who live next door to adjudicated properties to care for those lots for a year, and after that time the homeowners could bid on the lots without having to go through a public bidding process.

Adjudicated properties are properties that have not had taxes paid on them for years. According to Mayor Wendy Perrette, the city has about 800 such properties and has tried for years to get them sold through public auctions. The city is currently using a company called Archon to auction off the properties.

Councilman Teddy Drummond introduced the revised ordinance at the first council meeting in February but on Tuesday, as it came up for vote, Drummond asked that the ordinance be tabled. Drummond then left, explaining he had to go to work.

However, that did not end discussion.

The council chambers were packed with dozens of people, most of whom seemed ready to express concern over the ordinance. Last weekend, an anonymous person circulated a letter at a church, falsely alleging that the ordinance would allow the city to illegally seize property from homeowners and sell it without their consent. The letter urged public participation at Tuesday’s meeting.

Drummond had a copy of the letter and he turned it over to The Daily News. It says, in part, “This ordinance will give the city the authority to hire a select group of people, who will have the power to take your property, sell your property or give away your property.”

In fact, the proposed ordinance made no change at all in the third party that manages the bidding process of adjudicated properties.

Even though the ordinance was tabled Tuesday, members of the audience still chose to speak out against it.

Theresa Keller accused the council of orchestrating land grabs through the ordinance. She argued the city should not enter into a contract with Archon, because the company would seize property from anyone in town.

“They will have the authority to target or pick whatever piece of land that they want to put on the chopping block,” she read, from a prepared three-page statement. “All they have to do is classify the land as eligible adjudicate property and brother, your land is gone, forever and a day.”

Keller said that once the property was seized, factories and farms would move in.

However, the city has used Archon for years, to manage its adjudicated properties. The lots are mainly in residential areas and only big enough for a modest home. In addition, only properties that have no taxes paid on them can become adjudicated.

Later in the meeting, after hearing from other outraged citizens, council President Sherry Fortenberry said the reason Drummond asked the ordinance to be tabled was because of concern about Archon’s pricing for lots. She said her son-in-law wanted to buy an adjudicated property but discovered the property was listed much higher than it was valued.

Archon makes its profit on the sale of the homes, not from the city directly. In addition, Archon also provides a clean title to property buyers, guaranteeing that the land does not have any liens or claims against it.

But Fortenberry said the cost didn’t justify the service.

“The price they wanted was nothing I would want him to pay for it,” she said.

Fortenberry said Archon was listing all the adjudicated properties for much higher than their appraised value, and this meant nobody was buying them. Because of this, Fortenberry asked the mayor and the council to break the city’s contract with Archon.

According to Perrette, the city can get out of the contract with a written notice of termination. That letter was mailed Wednesday.

Several messages were left with Archon representatives, but those phone calls were not returned by press time.

However, although Fortenberry said she was opposed to the ordinance because of Archon’s pricing, she was disappointed in the misinformation that was used to get the public interested in Tuesday’s meeting.

“I am glad y’all are here. I am happy to see this,” she said. “But whoever wrote this letter, I want to encourage them to get their facts straight before they put out any thing like this.”

At the end of the meeting, Perrette said that the city does not want to take anyone’s property.

“In no way, shape or form, was the city of Bogalusa looking to take anyone’s land for gain,” said Perrette.

She had some advice, too, if anyone is concerned that the city might auction off their property.

“If you want your property, pay your taxes. Get back on the rolls,” she said.

After the meeting, Perrette said if the council does approve an ordinance that would allow homeowners to buy adjacent adjudicated properties, those lots could be had for very little money.

“I would take anything,” she said. “These properties we’re not getting anything for (in taxes), right now. And the majority are eyesores.”

In addition to hosting a lengthy discussion over a resolution that was tabled, the council also introduced an ordinance to revitalize city parks and a resolution to support and submit an application for a grant of $50,000. The money would be used for water line replacement.

“We have some areas of the city that still have some lead pipes and that’s what this is for,” Councilman Doug Ritchie said.

The next board meeting is March 1 at 5:30 p.m.