Blight tax goes into effect for City of Savannah - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Blight tax goes into effect for City of Savannah

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)

Hitting property owners where it the wallet. 

That's what the City of Savannah is doing this week as higher tax bills go out for those owning chronically blighted properties. This is happening because of the Community Redevelopment Tax Incentive Ordinance, passed last February in an effort to crack down on blight. 

This is the first time Savannah has adopted a tactic like this, and it's the teeth city staff believes will give this blight control policy bite - starting now. 

In some cases, Savannah has been after owners of blighted property for years trying to get them to come into compliance. For the city, the time of chasing is over.

"Their taxes are going to go up seven times the amount of normal tax rates," said Property Maintenance Director, Kimberly Corbin. "If we can target properties that have been problems for longer than a year; not just blight, but it's also criminal activity at the structure, and this is the time that the tax bills are going out, so properties that have been affected or called attention upon them are on this list to receive this tax notice."

That means instead of the normal 12 percent rate, violators will see an 84 percent rate, thanks to the Community Redevelopment Tax Incentive Ordinance. 

"The tax bill will probably be an eye-opening experience," Corbin said. 

Owners of 64 chronically blighted properties got a warning that the new tax was going into effect last November, and even with that year to clean up, more than half are still in violation.

"You want good neighbors, you want neighbors that are going to be able to take care of it, and it may come to that hard decision of having to give the property up," she said. 

Corbin says the concentration of blight tends to border downtown to the east and west. In west Savannah, battling blight is nothing new, and the tax is a welcomed addition.

"Because people have been so lackadaisical as far as trying to do something, I think this is going to make a difference," said Ronald Williams, President, West Savannah Community Organization. 

Williams is speaking on Cumming Street, where two properties made the list - about a dozen sit boarded up.

"Something has to be done. I appreciate the city's effort, what they've done and what they're trying to do to force these people to take an interest. If you're not interested in it, sell it. There's no sense for you to own property next to someone who is taking care of their property," Williams said. 

The city says they will work with property owners on the list who will get that increased property tax bill this year. Still, if the owners do make the necessary changes, they won't be off the list until next year - and the reduction to a normal tax rate is incremental over a four-year period. 

To be cited under the Ordinance, a property must meet at least two of the following criteria:

  • Uninhabitable, unsafe, or abandoned structure;
  • Inadequate provisions for rain, ventilation, light, air, or sanitation;
  • An imminent harm to life or other property caused by fire, flood, hurricane, tornado, earthquake, storm, or other natural catastrophe respecting which the governor has declared a state of emergency under the state law or has certified the need for disaster assistance under federal law; provided, however, this division shall not apply to property unless the relevant public agency has given notice in writing to the property owner regarding specific harm caused by the property and the owner has failed to take reasonable measures to remedy the harm;
  • A site identified by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency as a superfund site pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 9601, et seq., or having environmental contamination to an extent that requires remedial investigation or a feasibility study;
  • Repeated illegal activity on the individual property of which the property owner knew or should have known; or
  • The maintenance of the property is below state, county, or municipal codes for at least one year after written notice of the code violation to its owner; and
  • It is conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, or crime in the immediate proximity of the property

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