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The city of Savannah, Ga., more than doubled the number of properties targeted with a blight tax this year in a continued attempt to reduce the amount of unsafe and unsightly structures throughout its neighborhoods.
The property tax bills were increased by seven times the normal amount for 84 properties in 2018, following the implementation last year of the Community Redevelopment Tax Incentive ordinance.
The tax is meant as a motivator for derelict property owners, according to Code Compliance Director Kevin Milton.
“We want the property fixed, that’s the ultimate goal,” Milton said. “So the current owner can do it or the owner can sell the property and somebody else can do it.”
The properties are selected after meeting required criteria such as being easily accessible, posing a safety risk, or being a haven for criminal activity. Boarded up structures that are properly secured and do not have any property maintenance violations do not qualify.
“It’s not beautiful, but we’ve got a lot bigger problems to get after,” Milton said.
But the increased tax bills have had little impact on those structures that did make the cut.
All 35 properties targeted last year were among those on the 2018 list, as owners failed to address the dilapidated conditions of the structures.
And only about $15,000 of the $37,000 charged to those properties has been paid. The city is seeking to obtain almost $122,000 from the blight tax targeted properties this year, with the additional tax amount ranging from $132 to $11,034.
Still, Milton said it is too early to judge the effectiveness of the two-year-old program.
A few owners appear to have been influenced to act.
Curtis Bellenot, owner of Bell Homes, said he recently purchased a house at 1213 E. 31st St. and is in the process of renovating the two-story structure, which is missing much of its side wall, after being contacted by the owner.
“When the city upped her taxes she reached out,” Bellenot said. “I think it was a big part of her decision.”
Next to Bellenot’s property, another house hit with the tax had a private landscaping crew out performing lawn maintenance work on Wednesday.
And Wells Anderson, owner of Wells Anderson Construction and Real Estate, recently purchased one of the properties on Harmon Street, which he said he is planning to renovate and sell. The former owner is also attempting to sell three other properties in similar condition, likely due to the tax, Anderson said.
“I’ve been looking at Harmon for 10 years thinking it was a really cool building,” he said. “So when I saw it come up for sale I jumped on it.”
The owners who fail to renovate their structures or pay the blight tax could eventually have their properties acquired by the city to sell for redevelopment purposes, following the passage in 2017 of state legislation allowing for the use of eminent domain to combat community blight. The city is in the process of acquiring the first property using the legislation, which requires approval by a Chatham County Superior Court judge.
The property being acquired is one of four properties charged the blight tax on West Savannah’s Cumming Street, which is lined with vacant houses and lots.
The city’s plan to acquire additional properties along the street to facilitate the development of improved, affordable housing there has the support of Ronald Williams, West Savannah Community Organization president.
Some of the homes have remained dormant for years and the heirs don’t do anything with them, Williams said.
“If the city can use eminent domain, than that’s the route we need to take,” he said.
Tribune Content Agency