HARTFORD —— Owners of blighted residential properties in the city will now face an additional penalty for allowing their buildings and land to languish.
The city has adopted a special assessment for blighted properties — essentially, a new penalty that owners would have to pay on top of their tax bills and in addition to any fines imposed. The city's current practice is to issue a $99 fine for each violation, such as broken windows or a hole in the roof.
The new amount levied on property owners would be calculated by dividing the total cost that the city pays annually to respond to blight issues — like trespassing — by the number of blighted housing units. In the 2011-12 fiscal year, the city spent about $2 million responding to blight issues, according to a report prepared by a special blight assessment committee. There are about 1,600 blighted housing units, the committee reported, so the special assessment would be about $1,250 for each blighted unit.
The city council approved the plan, proposed by Mayor Pedro Segarra, at a meeting earlier this month.
Money raised from the assessment would go into the city's anti-blight fund, a revolving fund that pays for costs associated with the city's anti-blight program. Blight fines and fees are also funneled into the reserve.
Although the money won't go into the city's general fund, Segarra has said, the assessment could help bring down expenses. Fewer blighted properties mean fewer calls to police and emergency services about blight issues, he said.
In a report assessing the city's livable and sustainable neighborhoods initiative, an anti-blight effort begun in January which faced numerous problems in its first six months of operation, Interim Chief Operating Officer Saundra Kee Borges noted that the special assessment would "shift the costs of the program away from innocent taxpayers and onto the properties that are the source of blight and urban decay."
The new penalty would provide "dedicated funding for the next phase of [the neighborhoods initiative] which will require that the city take control of blighted properties that have not responded to [anti-blight] enforcement, and then maintain and dispose of those properties," she wrote in the report.
City officials said they are optimistic that the plan would help reduce the number of vacant, deteriorating structures.
Segarra has said that although owners of blighted properties have a higher delinquency rate than other taxpayers, many of them still pay their taxes on time.
In its report, the blight assessment committee estimated that 40 to 60 percent of those hit with the special blight assessment would pay it. That would bring in about $1 million annually, the group wrote.
The charge would appear on owners' property tax bills.
The proposal only affects residential properties because adding such an assessment to commercial properties would require a change in state law, city officials have said. Many of Hartford's vacant or deteriorating structures are private homes or multi-use facilities.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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