City staff has been drafting an ordinance called the Community Redevelopment Tax Incentive Program that would levy a hefty tax on owners of blighted properties.
The ordinance would allow the city to crack down on blighted areas by “providing stronger steps to gain cooperation,” according to City Manager Steve Kennedy’s report to council Wednesday.
Kennedy said the current draft would hit violators with a tax seven times the amount of the regular property tax millage, but the council could change that amount for the final version.
“It has got to be significant enough that it has to get someone’s attention,” Kennedy said.
Kennesaw’s current property tax millage rate is 9.5, with 1.5 coming from bond issuances, Kennedy said.
The increase would be applied on the next year’s tax bill. It would not be removed until maintenance work is completed and approved by city staff.
Money collected from the blight tax, if enacted, would go toward redevelopment purposes such as grants or low interest loans, Kennedy said.
Kennedy said the city’s legal staff has reviewed a draft ordinance of the blight tax, which means it is time for the council to make final adjustments and possibly bring it forward for a vote.
The change in the city’s code would require a public hearing to get input from residents. That necessary step means it will be at least April before a vote is expected.
There was no opposition at Wednesday night’s work session by council members to the possible new tax.
Councilwoman Cris Eaton-Welsh said the ordinance would be a great way to clean up properties when the city’s resources “have been exhausted and exhausted and exhausted.”
“The intention is to get their attention, not to raise a lot of money,” Welsh said.
The effort to punish owners of dilapidated properties within the city began when the Kennesaw Citizens Advisory Committee discussed the issue in February 2013.
At that time, Councilman Jim Sebastian chaired the committee.
The group’s recommendations included having a possible sliding scale for the additional tax levied depending on the severity of the violation.
Creating a citywide registry of vacant properties was also suggested, which Kennedy said could be part of the plan, but was more of a concern during periods with high foreclosure rates.
Kennesaw is not facing a severe problem with blighted properties, Kennedy said, but adding this ordinance to the city’s books would be a good tool for the staff.
“We wanted to get ahead of the game on any blighted property,” he said.
Before a blight tax would be levied against a property owner, an officer or building-code inspector must first deem the property unsafe, uninhabitable, abandoned or an imminent hazard.
The claims of imminent harm could come from neighbor complaints or a visible breach of city code reported by staff. Illegal activity at the property could also qualify it as blighted.
Or, if a property is not using city services, such as garbage pickup, it could be considered uninhabitable.
To reach the level of being hit with a massive new tax, a property owner would have to ignore the standard steps and notices already used by the city.
“This is the last of last resorts,” Kennedy said.
‘No trend or pattern’ of blight in Kennesaw
The city took an informal inventory of properties it considered blighted a year ago.
Kennedy said there are no particular areas of concern in the city, just individual properties that are not maintained.
“There is no trend or pattern,” Kennedy said.
The properties that would be targeted are not limited to residential, but also commercial buildings.
“It could be any and all,” Kennedy said.
Darryl Simmons, Kennesaw’s Planning and Zoning Administrator, said there were only one, two or three properties that might meet the blight conditions, but would not provide any specific locations.
Eileen Alberstadt is an active citizen in Kennesaw who attends nearly every City Council meeting.
Alberstadt said she wants to work with businesses on a voluntary basis to upscale their look, including new signage.
“I want to beautify Kennesaw,” Alberstadt said.
Alberstadt said one plot of land, an abandoned Chevron gas station that she drives past multiple times a day, is a good place to start with the proposed blight tax.
Many residents said Cherokee Street must be addressed during Mayor Mark Mathews’ town hall last week.
The stretch of road includes older homes that have been rezoned for commercial use and often are in various stages of disrepair.
As for a citywide cleanup effort, a neighboring town on Wednesday night was also discussing similar efforts during a City Council meeting.
Marietta City Councilman Stuart Fleming wants to put homeowners on notice that boarded-up properties won’t be tolerated, including some large apartment complexes.
One of the models being looked at for cracking down on blighted properties is the city of Griffin, which levies taxes at an increased rate, equaling three times the city’s normal property tax rate, on owners of “abandoned” properties.