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In 2015, Township Council adopted an Ordinance which requires banks and lenders (not residents) to register any property in Washington Township which has been abandoned or is the subject of a mortgage foreclosure proceeding. As part of the registration process, the bank or lender has to maintain these properties as well as pay a registration fee. The Township has the right to proceed with a local hearing process for all banks and lenders who violate the Ordinance before going to Municipal Court.
As part of its normal compliance protocols, it was determined that banks and lenders had failed to register over 100 properties in the Township. The Township took the initiative to commence compliance hearings in an effort to have these properties registered and maintained as required by law. The 2015 Ordinance requires the Township to appoint a Hearing Officer and give each bank and lender the opportunity to have a hearing regarding their violation. At its public meeting in June of this year, Township Council passed a Resolution appointing the Township’s Business Administrator to act as the Hearing Officer in these proceedings. Township Council also approved a $1,500 stipend for the Business Administrator to act as the Hearing Officer only for contested cases. This stipend is necessary because the role of the Hearing Officer is beyond the scope of the Business Administrator’s job functions and responsibilities.
We are pleased to report that since the civil proceedings against banks and lenders began earlier this year, the Township has been able to have over 90% of the properties registered and compliant under the maintenance obligation. To date, the Township has collected almost $140,000 in registration fees and almost $44,000 in fines and penalties against the banks and lenders.
To date, the Hearing Officer has or will receive a stipend for presiding over ten of these cases. The entire amount of the stipend will be reimbursed by the fines and penalties collected from the banks and lenders and NOT out of taxpayer dollars. We are further pleased to report that the registration fees and fines collected from the banks and lenders have also been used to help fund the demolition of the Watson Turkey factory, further saving costs on taxpayers. It has been an eyesore for residents for many years, and was ordered to be demolished as an unsafe structure by the Township Construction Code Official earlier this year. In addition, the fines and fees are used to maintain abandoned properties within Washington Township for grass cutting, pool safety, fixing fences, cleaning and removal of debris, boarding of broken windows and any other required maintenance per the zoning officer. We are confident that these measures are improving the Township as a whole, while at the same time exercising fiscal responsibility and saving taxpayer dollars.