Babylon Village is spending tens of thousands of dollars a year and devoting scarce manpower to maintain about 10 vacant houses, a lingering effect of the mortgage foreclosure crisis, said Mayor Ralph Scordino.
The banks and mortgage servicing companies that pay the taxes on most of these properties are supposed to perform upkeep, and most hire maintenance companies for that purpose, he said. But too often the upkeep is sporadic and inadequate, he said.
"We'll call about grass, about break-ins, and they won't show up for weeks," he said. "These houses are vacant, they're run-down. They're a travesty."
With 7,598 foreclosure filings in Suffolk County in 2013 and 3,315 this year as of Tuesday, towns are cracking down on derelict and abandoned properties. Brookhaven Town officials earlier this summer started going to the town board instead of State Supreme Court for permission to raze blighted houses, in a bid to streamline the process. Islip created a registry of blighted properties in 2011 and charges owners an annual fee until they clean up; Huntington passed laws to create a similar registry earlier this summer. Babylon Town routinely cleans and boards up or demolishes structures officials deem to be unsafe.
In Babylon Village, the six-person Highway Department cuts grass and removes garbage from vacant foreclosed properties both north and south of Montauk Highway. In two recent cases, village officials determined that houses were so badly dilapidated that they endangered public safety and went to State Supreme Court to condemn and demolish the homes.
With court and other costs, demolitions can cost about $20,000 apiece. That money can be recouped eventually, officials say, but the outlay is a drag on finances for a village whose budget was $9.3 million this year. With workers' payrolls included, village officials estimated they are spending tens of thousands of dollars a year to maintain vacant properties.
"For $20,000, I can buy a lot of different things. That's a new pickup for the Highway Department or a new blade for a dump truck, or almost 10 suits for the firemen," Scordino said.
Building inspector Steve Fellman visited one of these problem properties last month, on Stowe Avenue. Graffiti, garbage and beer cans filled the house. Neighbor Chris Walsh said the house has been "a nightmare," but that conditions had improved in recent months.
A maintenance crew was on site and Fellman credited them with removing dead raccoons, but was told more extensive cleanup would require permission from the home office of the mortgage service company that owns the house.
Mortgage servicing firm Ocwen Financial paid taxes on the property and is responsible for upkeep, village clerk Pat Carley said. Ocwen did not respond to a request for comment this week.
Fellman said he felt bad for the neighbors on Stowe and the home's previous resident, who officials believe moved to Texas after she stopped making payments on the house about two years ago.
"All this stuff is intertwined with human tragedy," he said.