When Leon Ditsch ran for a seat on the International Falls City Council last fall, his platform was to rid the local business community of blight.
Now that he serves the east ward, Ditsch said he and his fellow councilors need to do a better job making sure the city is cleaned up.
“Unkempt property starts at city limits... and goes right down Highway 53,” he said. “As a city, why aren’t we taking care of this? We are not doing our job... on keeping this city clean.”
While he said a lot of businesses are doing fine, there are commercial buildings with long grass, untrimmed trees, chipped paint and other cosmetic needs.
“I see the same businesses have not cleaned up their act,” he said. “It seems like we’re turning our heads... We have a blight policy to enforce, are we enforcing this? There should be citations issued.”
Fire chief Adam Mannausau, who also serves as the housing inspector, said Ditsch had contacted him with concerns about long grass at a few businesses, but when he checked on them, it had been cut.
“I’m not sure exactly what you’re referencing,” he said. “I would just like to point out... the ICO building is coming down.”
Across town, crews were beginning demolition efforts on the former ICO gas station as the council met.
Kelly Meyers, city building official, told The Journal the building’s owners ordered their own demolition and hired TPEC, a Duluth-based company, to complete the project.
“The city will be disconnecting the water and sewer,” he said. “This disconnect will be billed to TPEC as part of the demolition. The ICO Corporation is funding the complete project.”
Back in the council chambers, Ditsch said he was pleased to hear of the ICO demolition efforts, but reiterated the concerns he was referencing Tuesday were about the appearance of some current businesses.
“Our town is unkempt,” he said. “We cannot go on like this... I hate to point fingers, I hate to be upset, but that’s what I ran on. We are not doing our job.”
Councilor Joe Krause said while he understood Ditsch’s concerns, he felt there were bigger issues that need council attention.
“We just got an email (Tuesday) morning that Kmart is closing, and we’re going to lose 42 jobs,” he said. “We’ve had Tim Hortons close (and) we torn down at least one commercial structure this year. I understand that grass, and weeds and trees are a problem... We’ve got bigger issues.”
City Administrator Ken Anderson said he also understands Ditsch’s frustrations and acknowledged Mannausau and other staff make an effort to enforce blight protocol.
“It has to be understood that there has to be some time we have to allow for people to remedy whatever issues they have with their property,” he said. “I think in some cases, we have to almost look at every property on a case-by-case basis.”
Councilor Harley Droba credited groups that are working to clean up the city.
“I want to give a ton of credit to Rotary that cleaned up one of our city parks,” he said of the park in Riverside. “I didn’t think that park looked bad until I saw what it looked like when it looked good... We’re trying to work on a culture change... We have a lot of good things going for us right now.”