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Erstwhile minister prepares to surrender his church, lost to tax auction

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The peephole crew. That was Scott A. Campbell’s first business.

In the early 1990s, Mr. Campbell, the businessman turned minister who lost his church turned boardinghouse to the Jefferson County tax auction in June, assembled a group of his friends, decked them out in blue shirts and sent them crisscrossing neighborhoods with a simple yet compelling sales pitch.

The group would target houses with front doors that did not have peepholes. Knocking and ringing incessantly, they would bring the homeowner to the door.

“What?!” would be the response of the hapless owner.

“You know, if you had a peephole, you never would have opened this door,” was the clever retort. “I’ll install one for you for $20.”

The owner then would close the door in consternation, Mr. Campbell said, only to have it knocked upon again.

For a second time, the owner would open the door.

“What?!” again was the sharp greeting.

“Don’t you see? If you’d just spend twenty dollars on a peephole, you wouldn’t have to open the door to know it was just me again,” was the reply.

And the owner, apparently struck by the sound logic of the statement, would acquiesce to installation, netting the peephole crew a healthy profit in the process, according to Mr. Campbell.

He was 13 at the time.

Now 37 and a Universal Life minister, Mr. Campbell has to leave his home, the site of the former Long Falls Baptist Church, by the end of the month. It was purchased by Mark Pominville, who owns a neighboring building, for $65,000 at the auction.

Mr. Campbell, who owed more than $11,000 in county back taxes on the property, bid up to $64,000 before giving up.

Now he and his eight roommates have 30 days to leave the premises.

Photographs like the one of the peephole crew are being boxed up, along with cabinets full of files from Mr. Campbell’s colorful business career and the artwork, sculptures and bric-a-brac that are tacked on the walls and lie about around the capacious former sanctum like a permanent garage sale.

In a nearly unbelievable twist of irony, Mr. Campbell said that in Virginia, where he originally is from, he once owned an eviction service called Speedy Restorations but quit one day after a bank had him remove an elderly woman on oxygen from her home.

After leaving the woman at the house of a local church member, he said, “I called the bank and said, ‘I won’t do business for you anymore.’”

Now Mr. Campbell is on the other side of a similar negotiation, one that will end on a slightly more defiant note.

He said he will stay in the village, despite the fact that he has never really felt welcome there.

The church building, which Mr. Campbell purchased in 2008 for $37,000, has long been a headache for village officials.

Shortly before the property went to auction, West Carthage Mayor Scott M. Burto said there have been “numerous code violations and complaints” associated with it.

At one point, village officials even asked the county to turn the property over directly to them instead of including it in the auction.

Taking possession of the property would have given the village “the opportunity to clean it up and better the community,” Mr. Burto said.

But while Jefferson County officials initially agreed to the village’s proposal, they reconsidered, fearing it would set a dangerous precedent.

A property that is occupied has never before been turned over to a municipality, according to County Attorney David J. Paulsen.

So to appease both parties, a minimum bid was set on the property, to ensure that someone with the wherewithal to rehabilitate the building would win, according to officials.

Mr. Campbell said he originally purchased the property to provide housing to people in the area. Instead of charging his roommates rent, he allows them to either pay what they can afford or to contribute by helping out around the house.

To pay for expenses, Mr. Campbell said, he uses royalties from his former businesses, which also include a cleaning company, a foam sculpting business and consulting services for aspiring entrepreneurs.

“I left home when I was 16 and I’ve always had a minimum of 10 people living with me. The most I had was 38 people with me,” Mr. Campbell said.

Though he’s a little shy of that minimum figure right now, Mr. Campbell said, his eight roommates are helping him move and want to stay with him when he finds a new place.

He said he is looking at a former Mennonite Church in the village as well as a former funeral parlor.

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