Savannah proposes new blight tax ordinance

Savannah proposes new blight tax ordinance

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - For years, the City of Savannah has battled to eradicate blight from neighborhoods in every district.

Blighted properties include, but are not limited to, abandoned structures. A house where repeat illegal activity is happening, or the structure is not up to local building code. A building cannot be deemed blighted solely because of aesthetic conditions. And even with initiatives like the recent Blight to Bright Campaign, blighted properties with absentee landlords or unclear ownership continue to be a problem.

This week, Savannah City Council members were introduced to a property maintenance ordinance proposal that could add another weapon to combat blight in our city.

The City says Community Redevelopment Tax Incentive Ordinance is potentially the most effective method of eliminating certain blight conditions, and here's how.

"These property owners who are basically not caring for their properties, and who haven't cared for their properties for a number of years, some of whom we can't even find, we're saying we're done with you. We are going to be increasingly aggressive, and we're going to hit you where it counts, which is in your wallet," said Bret Bell, City of Savannah.

Georgia Constitution Article 9, section 2, paragraph 7, says: "The existence of real property which is maintained in a blighted condition increases the burden of the state and local government by increasing the need for government services, including but not limited to social services, public safety services, and code enforcement services."  

And that provision allows for the city to raise property tax on blighted structures.

"If your property is kept in a blighted condition, the longer it remains in that blighted condition, the more in property taxes you will pay," said Bell.

The proposed tax incentive ordinance calls for an initial hike of seven times the base millage rate. The only way that comes down, is if property owners comply and clean up.

"It will incentivize the property owners to fix up their properties. Right now, it has the reverse effect, where the crummier your property is, the lower your property values are and the less you pay in property taxes. So there's actually a financial incentive to keep your property in terrible shape," said Bell.

"I think that the time for warnings and the time for hand-holding is over. I think that what we've got to do is give people a reason that they have to do it," said District 6 Alderman Tony Thomas.

The city expects 50 to 60 properties to qualify for this blight tax ordinance. Alderman Thomas thinks it's a bigger problem.

"If we're going to like, do these campaigns, if we're going to put these ordinances and these tools in the bag, let's do something with it. Let's make a difference. Let's not just use it as a talking point to get on the news," said Thomas.

The city spokesman says it's likely the proposed ordinance will make it on the city council agenda for a first and second reading in the next two to four weeks.

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