The city searches for a way to deal with a persistent headache
February 23, 2010
In two weeks the Perez administration will try again to get a resolution through the city council that would require private property owners to clean up graffiti on their homes or businesses or face fines of $100 per day.
"The city right now has no way of ordering [a] property owner to [remove graffiti]," says Susan McMullen, chief of staff to Mayor Eddie Perez. "We also really don't have the legal right to go on to private property to remove [graffiti], not unless the property owner specifically asks us to."
But even if a property owner gave the city permission to remove graffiti, it's not clear the city would be able to follow through, given the $30 million budget deficit Hartford faces. McMullen says a $50,000 line item for graffiti removal in the past several budgets has proved "very inadequate to clean all the graffiti reported," and she's not sure how much money, if any, will be devoted to graffiti removal in next year's budget.
"In this current economic environment I would not guess that figure [of $50,000] would be increased," says McMullen. "Right now I don't know if we'll be able to maintain it [at $50,000]."
That's just great, says John Tornatore of Gordon Bonetti Florist on Franklin Avenue, who derided the proposed graffiti ordinance as "another example of the city not doing the job it's supposed to, looking to make property owners pay."
Tornatore says the city has failed to go after the state and federal funds that it used to get to fight problems like graffiti, and that the public works department has been cut so severely that it can no longer keep the city clean.
"What this city is really facing is a huge increase in the filthy look, where there's trash on the street and on vacant properties," Tornatore said. "There are mattresses, sofas and furniture all over the streets and no public works department to keep up with it."
City Councilman Luis Cotto shares some of Tornatore's concerns about the burden the proposed ordinance would put on local business owners already reeling from high property taxes, but says the "big thrust" of the ordinance is to go after the absentee landlord "who doesn't give a crap and allows his space to be vandalized in that way."
Cotto also says the first draft of the ordinance brought to the council in January was "borderline illegal" because of the restrictions it put on youth.
The city withdrew that initial draft, says McMullen, after Corporation Counsel John Rose expressed his concern that the proposed ordinance went overboard in prohibiting the sale of broad-tipped markers to minors and in banning minors from having the markers or spray paint cans on school or parks property.
"Some of the [anti-graffiti] advocates frankly felt that would not be a bad thing but we've removed that language from the draft that will be going to the next meeting of the council," says McMullen.
The next city council meeting is on March 8.
McMullen says before property owners would be subjected to fines under the new ordinance, they would get a notification to clean up their properties once an inspector confirms there is in fact graffiti. Only if they ignored that notification would they face the $100-per-day fine.
"It's all about quality of life," says McMullen. "People want to take pride in their neighborhoods where they work and live, and when they see graffiti there's a perception that there's crime in that area. In most cases that's a misleading perception, but it affects property values and quality of life."