KIMBALL, Tenn. — City leaders have been working unsuccessfully for more than a year to resolve problems with a neglected house at 120 Raulston Cove Road.
"There's still not been a resolution," City Attorney Billy Gouger said. "The problem has not gone away. The situation is not going to improve itself."
He said Kimball administrators could seek a face-to-face meeting with the property owners, but if that doesn't work, the city "may have to consider the court action route," Gouger said.
The Kimball Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously to request that meeting with the property owners and gave Gouger the authority to proceed with litigation if necessary.
"Resolving this once and for all is what I want to see done and as soon as possible," Alderman Mark Payne said.
Tennessee state records show the property is owned by Hobert and Catherine Robertson, of South Pittsburg.
Robina Hibbs has lived across the street from the property for 11 years, and she said nearby residents' concerns are not an attack on the landowners.
"The house has been empty for 10 years," she said. "It's just an abandoned house with skunks living in it."
Gouger said that if the town forces action in court and it's not defended, the matter could cost Kimball about $1,500 to settle.
If it's disputed, he said it could drag on for a year or more, and the costs to the city could be around $5,000.
"If we spend $4,000 or $5,000 to fight this in court, we're not going to get that money back," Mayor David Jackson said. "If we lose, we've lost the whole thing."
Officials could seek the owners' permission to tear down the structure, which would cost approximately $5,000, but let the family maintain ownership of the land afterward.
"You're never going to see that money again anyway," Jackson said.
The city attempted to purchase the property last year, but the bank holding the mortgage rejected the offer.
"That's probably not workable at this point," Gouger said. "The lien amount to the bank far exceeds the value of the property."
He said the city has a "duty and obligation" to pursue the matter.
"You have these ordinances and state laws [regarding building codes] that are on the books," Gouger said. "If you're going to have them, then you need to show that you're going to enforce them."
Hibbs said safety is a primary concern with the property because she's had to run small children out of the crumbling house in the past.
Gouger said Kimball might share some liability if an accident occurs, even though the structure is on private property.
He said the house has become an "attractive nuisance," which is a legal term for a dangerous place that might attract children.
"Normally, there wouldn't be any potential liability for the town at all since it's private property, but the problem we get into here is that the town is aware of it," Gouger said.
Hibbs said she appreciates Kimball "exerting great effort" in trying to resolve the issue.
"I don't want anyone to think I'm having the city come in to fight my battles for me," she said. "If it were feasible, I would be trying to [purchase the land]. It's not anymore feasible for me than it is for [Kimball]."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.