Jack Robbins, Dunkirk health and safety director and a member of the Dunkirk City Council, looks around the trash-strewn yard of a mobile home on the south side of the city earlier this week. Robbins and other Dunkirk officials are working on a plan that would have Dunkirk acquire several properties and use city workers to tear down structures. (The Commercial Review/Robert Banser)<br />
Jack Robbins, Dunkirk health and safety director and a member of the Dunkirk City Council, looks around the trash-strewn yard of a mobile home on the south side of the city earlier this week. Robbins and other Dunkirk officials are working on a plan that would have Dunkirk acquire several properties and use city workers to tear down structures. (The Commercial Review/Robert Banser)
DUNKIRK — “Enough is enough.”
That’s how Jack Robbins, the city’s health and safety director, views  Dunkirk’s current housing and property maintenance problems after serving in that post for a little more than a year.
A city plagued by dilapidated houses and absentee property owners is fighting back, he said.
And progress appears to be on the horizon, added Robbins, a retired construction worker who has lived in Dunkirk all his life.
After months of struggling to contact owners about making building repairs and cleaning up properties, Robbins said last week that he finally is starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Recently Jay County Commissioners agreed to hand over the deeds to six properties with delinquent taxes, all within the Dunkirk city limits, that failed to sell at the county’s tax certificate sale in February.
Robbins spoke at a county commissioners meeting earlier this month, accompanied by Dunkirk Police Chief Dane Mumbower and Mayor Dan Watson, explaining that the city is willing to accept title to the properties with the idea of making improvements where possible, cleaning up the sites and then selling the properties to get them back on the tax rolls.
Robbins said that in some cases neighbors — already concerned about maintaining the value of their own properties — have expressed interest in purchasing the sites at a reasonable price without the burden of back taxes or expenses relating to demolishing unwanted structures.In addition to the properties mentioned, Robbins said that he has also tried unsuccessfully to get several other out-of-state property owners to correct health and building code violations. If the owners are local, the city can apply pressure and take them to court in Jay County, Robbins said, but in one case the address for the owner of a lot with a vacant and dilapidated house is listed as Saudi Arabia. “How can you deal with that?” Robbins questioned.
Some neighbors of dilapidated properties have been dealing with those problems for years.
Several of the most dilapidated houses are in very well kept neighborhoods.
On a recent tour of the above-mentioned sites, in several instances as soon as Robbins parked his truck, he was greeted by neighbors who recognized him from other visits and were curious to see if he had made any progress toward having an old house or trailer repaired and the surrounding lot cleaned up.
“People are getting tired of me telling them we’re working on it,” Robbins said. “But now I believe we are getting close to doing something.”
Some of these neighbors tried to improve the situation themselves by putting up tall, wooden privacy fences on their lots so they wouldn’t have to continuously look at the mess on the neighboring piece of property.
“I feel sorry for the neighbors,” Robbins said.
The dilapidated house at 203 West Lincoln is only inches away from a nicely maintained, brick building which houses the city’s Frontier Telephone facility. A professional demolition crew will be needed to handle that situation, Robbins said.
A large vacant house and garage at 126 E. North St. is only a short distance from Calvary United Methodist Church, 301 N. Main St. Church leaders have been interested in acquiring the property, but their finances are limited, Robbins explained.
If that abandoned house and garage are torn down, there will probably be critters running in all directions, Robbins said. He added that workers from various city departments would probably be able to pool their efforts to demolish that structure and clean up the site as no other buildings are close to it.
“The city workers have been very cooperative and real helpful,” commented Robbins who makes $1,250 a year as the city’s part-time health and safety director.
“These sort of improvements could not happen without city council approval and the city workers coming together. Also there has been a lot of cooperation from the police department,” Robbins said. “It’s good to see people cooperating to get things done.
“I have made up my mind to get these properties cleaned up.”
Robbins added that he has his eye on several other pieces of property in the city that need to be cleaned up with unwanted, dilapidated structures demolished. “Probably this summer we’ll get 10 to 12 dilapidated houses torn down in Dunkirk,” Robbins said.
“We’re going to get this city cleaned up — it’s going to happen.”