Hartford Mayor Proposes New Penalty For Blighted Structures
By JENNA CARLESSO
June 07, 2012
HARTFORD —— Owners of blighted residential properties in the city would face an added penalty for allowing their buildings to languish, under a new proposal by Mayor Pedro Segarra.
Segarra's plan would create a special assessment for the properties — essentially a new expense that owners would have to pay on top of their tax bills and in addition to any fines imposed. The city currently issues a $100 fine for each violation, which include broken windows or a hole in the roof.
The new amount levied on property owners would be calculated by dividing 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 group reported, so owners would face a levy of $1,250 for each blighted unit.
Segarra's proposal must be approved by the city council.
"We want to directly charge each person not doing what they're required to do by law," Segarra said Thursday. "This just makes it more attractive to have attractive properties."
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 said, the assessment could help bring down expenses. Fewer blighted properties mean fewer calls to police and emergency services about blight issues, he said.
David Panagore, the city's chief operating officer, said he was optimistic that the plan would help reduce the number of vacant, deteriorating structures.
"Nothing is a magic bullet," he said, "but I've worked on anti-blight programs in five cities and [Hartford's] effort has been the most effective one in the shortest amount of time."
Segarra noted 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 new assessment charge would pay it. That would bring in about $1 million annually, the group wrote.
The charge would appear on owners' property tax bills, Panagore said, though it is still unclear if it will appear once a year or be split between the January and July bills.
He said the proposal only affects residential properties because adding such an assessment to commercial properties would require a change in state law. Many of the city's vacant or deteriorating structures are private homes or multi-use facilities.
Segarra said he created the proposal in response to a recommendation by the blight committee. The group — composed of six city residents and seven city staff members — was formed in March to review neglected properties and make suggestions for improvement.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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