WATERVILLE — Frustration with property owners who have not fixed burned-out or damaged buildings in the city came to a head Tuesday night when City Council Chairman Fred Stubbert, D-Ward 1, questioned whether a downtown building owner was telling the truth about having insurance.
City Manager Michael Roy was updating councilors on damaged buildings at 5 Elm Court, 11 Elm Court, 26 Gold St. and 18-20 Main St. He said the owner of 18-20 Main St. was working with his insurance company on a final settlement.
The building owner, John Weeks, owns JR’s Trading & Pawn on Elm Street. His Main Street building burned last summer and a tattoo shop on the first floor was destroyed.
“Everything will be boarded up and made secure and by June 1, he hopes to have the building taken down,” Roy said.
Stubbert asked Roy if the city knows for sure that the owner has an insurance company.
“As far as I know, we do,” Roy said. “It’s not our job to find out what insurance company.”
But Stubbert pressed further.
“I can tell you all day I have an insurance company, but it doesn’t mean I do,” he said. “He’s been stalling and stalling and stalling and blaming his insurance company for stalling.”
Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 4, said the city’s only recourse is to ask Weeks for the name of his insurance company. Councilor John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, asked what recourse the city has if the building is not taken care of. Thomas said the city could take care of the building and put a lien it, but Roy said that is a long process. O’Donnell said the situation is not like that of one building owner who took the insurance check from a fire and fled.
“This (Weeks) fellow has a business in town, and if we have to tear it down ourselves, … he has assets we could theoretically deal with,” O’Donnell said.
Contacted after Tuesday’s meeting, Weeks confirmed that his building was insured.
“Yes, I do have an insurance company,” he said. “It is Lloyd’s of London. I’ve been negotiating with them since the fire happened. I’m waiting for the adjuster to determine what the insurance company is going to do, and they are aware of the council’s point of view. I’m doing everything possible to complete the negotiations so that I can move forward on the demolition and/or rehabilitation of the building.”
Concerning other damaged buildings, Roy said the city is having an extremely difficult time dealing with one that burned last year at 5 Elm Court. A mortgage company in Plano, Texas, farmed it out to a property maintenance company that did not work out and then another company that did not return Code Enforcement Officer Garth Collins’ calls, Roy said.
“We’re getting increasingly frustrated about getting voluntary participation,” Roy said, adding that the city might take legal action if it gets no cooperation.
He said Collins met Friday with a representative of a mortgage company handling a building at 11 Elm Court, also damaged by fire, and the representative said he planned to make repairs to the building.
“We do expect the building to be fixed this spring,” Roy said.
He said the 26 Gold St. building, which has a blue tarp on its roof, is as difficult to deal with — if not more so — than 5 Elm Court.
“It’s been sold and re-sold a couple of times in the last two years and we’re getting a tremendous runaround,” he said.
Mayor Karen Heck asked if it would be worthwhile to contact the office of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, about the problem, which involves a lot of buildings in the area.
Roy said he was told there is a push at the federal level to pass a law that would cancel authority at the local level to take over buildings owned by people in certain states who do not take care of the buildings.
Heck was not pleased to hear that.
“They’re such crooks,” she said. “They’re the ones that are responsible. It makes me crazy.”
She asked again whether it would be worthwhile to contact congressional officials about the problem.
“It wouldn’t hurt,” said Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, who works for U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District.
Meanwhile, Stubbert said the former Harris Baking Co. building is a disaster and wondered aloud whether the taxes on the building are up to date.
A smaller building on the site is scheduled to house a hay log business that is to receive federal grant money the city applied for and received.
The larger building is owned by Dirigo U.S. Ranger Cadets and has been vacant a few years.
Roy said he could not say whether the taxes are up to date, but the building is not listed on the city’s foreclosure list for February.