Efforts to clean up rat-infested property leave neighbors frustrated

Brush and trees make it nearly impossible to see an abandoned building on Steubenville Rd. just outside Carrollton from the road. (FPS/Carol McIntire)

By Carol McIntire



Neighbors of an abandoned property on Steubenville Rd. are frustrated their efforts to have the property cleaned up are going nowhere.

The property, located at 347 Steubenville Rd., just south of Carrollton, was known as Atwood Nursing Center from the mid 1980s until 2001 or 2002. It was in the 2001-2002 time frame that the owner, Robert VanSickle of 10835 Western Reserve Rd., Salem, abruptly closed the facility and reportedly moved patients to a facility he owned in the Youngstown area. Atwood Nursing Center had a business office address of 3666 Mahoning Ave., Youngstown.

Neighbors said since that time, the building has been allowed to fall into disrepair and the grounds (nearly four acres) have been allowed to grow up with no maintenance. The structure was originally a two-story home that was remodeled and turned into a nursing facility.

Brush and trees make it nearly impossible to see an abandoned building on Steubenville Rd. just outside Carrollton from the road. (FPS/Carol McIntire)
Brush and trees make it nearly impossible to see an abandoned building on Steubenville Rd. just outside Carrollton from the road. (FPS/Carol McIntire)

Debbie Harris, who lives two houses away from the abandoned property, has spent the last several years mowing an area outside a fence that surrounds the building.

“It’s awful,” she said. “At first, they kept it up. People came and mowed the grass. Then one day they just stopped.”

Trees and brush inside the fenced area have grown and now hide the building from the highway. When leaves are off the trees, the roof of the building is visible.

Harris and her neighbor, Georgia LaRue, who lives adjacent to the fence, say the problem has gone way beyond brush and trees.

“A couple years ago, we saw bats flying in and out of the top of the building. Then we started having trouble with mice. Now its rats,” said Harris.

LaRue said her son trapped two rates the day prior to the interview.

“They (the rats) chewed a hole in the wood on the back porch of my home and were inside,” she said.

Alvie Rennicker owner of H&M Tire, which sits immediately to the left of the property, said he is experiencing a rat problem as well.

“It’s horrible,” he said. “We’ve seen a few rats in the past, but nothing like it is now. They ate a hole in the building on the side next to the abandoned property and are coming inside.”

Harris said about five years ago, an official from the IRS visited the site but “that was the end of it.”

The neighbors filed a nuisance complaint with the Carroll County Health Department, but the department determined it was not a nuisance, according to Harris.

In September, seven neighbors filed a complaint with the Health Department and are waiting a response.

The neighbors aren’t the only ones frustrated with the abandoned property.

Carroll County Treasurer Jeff Yeager would like to foreclose on the property for the $40,619.77 owed in back taxes, but a federal tax lien on the property is making that difficult.

Yeager learned the Internal Revenue Service (RIS) filed a lien of $1,452,347.18 against the property in October 2001 when VanSickle, whose address was listed as 4146 Sugarbush Rd., Canfield, failed to pay federal income and social security taxes (called 6672 taxes) withheld from employees’ pay for the period of September to December 2000. In October 2002, the IRS filed a lien for $74,626.83 for failure to pay 6672 taxes from March 31, 1999, to June 30, 2000. In April 2001, the IRS filed a lien for $351,521.18 for failure to pay 1040 income taxes.

Late last year, Yeager sent a letter to the IRS asking that all IRS liens be discharged so the county could sell the property and collect past due real estate taxes and court costs.

“The property has been abandoned for numerous years. It is not only in poor condition, but a detriment to the surrounding neighborhood,” Yeager wrote in his letter.

In May 2016, Yeager received a response from the IRS, saying the request was denied because the county failed to meet the requirements for discharge and cited a judgment filed in Mahoning County in March 2008 by the U.S. Department of Justice for $2.52 plus interest. The IRS letter stated the IRS has no authority to settle the case.

Carroll County Commissioner Jeff Ohler is working with Yeager in an attempt to have the lien released.

“We got an opinion from our prosecutor on foreclosing on the property,” Ohler said.

“The opinion said if we seek foreclosure on a property where the United States (IRS) has a lien, they have one year from the sheriff’s sale to redeem the property. Who is going to purchase a property when the IRS can came in within a year from when they bought it and take it back? No one.

Ohler has been in contact with officials from the Department of Justice and feels progress is being made.

“I think we are making progress and will bring this issue to fruition, but we all know when you are working with the government, it won’t happen quickly,” he said.

Until then, Harris plans to continue moving the strip of grass between the fence and the road and the area behind her home.

“At least the strip near the road doesn’t look so bad,” she said.