SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah City Council members are upset over the city's blighted properties and property owners whose neglect, they say, has gone on too long.
"Until you hit the pocket book, nothing's going to change," District 2 Alderwoman Mary Osborne said at Thursday's City Council workshop.
Council members are considering charging increased property tax for blighted properties. No vote has been taken yet, and no formal presentation has been made to council.
But if the ordinance is passed and the taxes are charged, the city could take properties from owners who failed to pay them.
"It's not fair for people who take care of their property to live next to people who don't take care of their property or may not live here anymore," District 1 Alderman Van Johnson said.
In an interview after the workshop, Johnson proposed that the city go a step further and ask the Georgia Legislature to float a bill that would allow cities to take over and redevelop blighted properties, whether or not the owners owe back taxes.
"I would really want to see us to petition the state to allow us to take those properties and redevelop them for people who want to take care of them," Johnson said.
The subject of Thursday's workshop was Chatham County's Livability Court, a subset of Recorder's Court that primarily hears property maintenance cases.
Recorder's Court Judge Tammy Stokes answered questions from council members.
"I think the vast majority of people want to be in compliance," she said.
But when they don't, the city's Property Maintenance Department is responsible for getting property owners in line with the law or taking them to court.
There, property owners can be fined or jailed.
Stokes told the city council she can only mete out those punishments if city inspectors have made strong cases.
City leaders say it's time for those inspectors to step up.
"She can't take action until a proper case is prepared and given to her," District 6 Alderman Tony Thomas said. "I think that sends a resounding wake-up call to the city."