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City closer to turning over former Halgren home

Sale contract transferred to park executive director Sterba

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

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ROCK FALLS – The City Council gave its consent to a sale contract transfer for the property that once belonged to Ronald Halgren.

The home at 812 Avenue A was at the center of a sometimes bizarre chain of events that played out over a period of time dating back to the early 1990s. For decades, Halgren refused to stay connected with city utilities and keep up the property in adherence to city code.

After the city condemned the house in 2005 and 2009, it was foreclosed upon in 2011. Later that year, the city bought the house at public auction for $29,500 in an attempt to get back money Halgren owed in back taxes, fines and court fees.

The story took a strange turn July 16, 2012, when the house caught fire the morning that Halgren was required to vacate the premises. Later that night, Halgren was arrested after a traffic stop in Sycamore and arrested on several weapons charges. He later was accused of arson in connection with the fire at his home.

The city then decided to take bids on the home, and ended up selling it to Sterling developer Richard Finnicum for $450.

“We advertised and took bids, and Finnicum’s was the only bid,” city administrator Robbin Blackert said Tuesday. “But we figured we could fix up a blighted property and put it back on the tax rolls.”

The action approved by the council Tuesday, similar to a contingency sale, sets the stage for the city to eventually turn over the property to Michael Sterba, the Coloma Township Park District executive director. Sterba plans to rent out the property after it is refurbished and back up to code.

“Tonight, the contract was transferred from Finnicum to Sterba,” Blackert said. “Technically, the city still owns the property, but [city building inspector] Mark Searing must approve it.”

It’s unlikely that the property will be transferred again. Sterba has 6 months from Tuesday’s action to bring the property up to code.

“We trust Mike will get the job done,” Blackert said. “The house is about 40 percent done on the inside.”

In other action, approval was given to buy a new vehicle for the fire department. The Byron Fire Protection District is selling the 2008 Ford Expedition with 44,000 miles for $17,000. It is equipped with a command box and emergency lights.

“We kind of stumbled upon it, and it’s a good deal,” chief Gary Cook said. “Everything’s included with it.”

Mayor Bill Wescott said the city is seeing the benefits of generating its own electricity during this extreme cold spell. Five huge generators are now running to save money for local users and supply electricity for PJM Interconnection, the power grid supplier for a large stretch of the nation throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest.

Wescott said he saw electricity prices jump overnight from $470 a megawatt to $1,710 a megawatt during this cold stretch.

“We’re not having to buy off the grid at these prices, and we can put more out for other communities and be reimbursed,” Wescott said. “The higher prices would otherwise have been passed on to our residents in times like this.”

Next meeting

The Rock Falls City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 21, at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St. 

The agendas will be posted at www.rockfalls61071.com and at City Hall. Call 815-622-1100 for more information.

The City Council meeting also can be viewed live on Channel 5.

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