Does the blight tax work? - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Does the blight tax work?

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By Karen Cohilas - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) – Albany city commissioners say they want to rid the city of eyesores, but backing up that talk with action isn't always easy. They dedicated a half million dollars for demolition of dilapidated properties this year alone.

They also imposed a blight tax on property owners who don't bring their structures up to code. Is that tax working as well as city leaders hoped?

You could call commissioner Jon Howard the enforcer of code enforcement. He hates to see buildings cluttering up his ward. Old, abandoned homes in peaceful neighborhoods becoming crack dens.

When he and I visited one recently, he found drug paraphernalia.  "This is a crack pipe. See the holes there. They put the crack on it and they light it up." "So you know it's a crack house, or being used as one?" "Absolutely, and this is a good example right here."

A good example of a bad problem, and hundreds of structures like this exist, all over Albany. Howard wants to see them all torn down.  He said, "We will probably be at this for another five to ten years before we have all these structures demolished."

And he's is working on it. He's constantly calling Code enforcement to let them know about another structure that isn't up to par, or calling them to find out when an eyesore will be removed from the landscape.

Some of them have been in the system for years. "Once it's completely demolished, the neighbors will feel much safer. They just feel unsafe in an unfit environment."

Last year the commission voted to adopt a blight tax, and tripled the amount of property taxes for owners who leave their properties in disarray.

But Howard says it's not really working as hoped.  He said, "If a piece of property is going to cost you a million dollars to demolish or rehabilitate it, would be feasible to say, 'well, I don't mind paying that for two or three years until I can do something with it.'"

Because it's often cheaper to pay the taxes than to clean it up or tear it down. So the city often takes on the expense, but Howard says it just might be worth it.

He said, "It will make the neighborhood much better and much safer." Taking dangerous and dilapidated buildings out of his community.

Albany Code enforcement says the blight tax has been imposed on two properties, the old Pritchett Ford building and the Dismuke insurance building. After owners bring their properties into compliance, they'll be given a tax break for the next three years.

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