Friday, July 27, 2012

The Committee Recommends

As a proud member of the City’s Blighted & Vacant Property Committee, I am thrilled to report that the Committee recently released our recommendations for commercial properties – on time and under budget (We do work for free).  The recommendations provide a great mix of carrots and sticks. I also feel the recommendations help fill in the spectrum from the currently available tools of code enforcement (the first tool of choice) and eminent domain (the last tool of choice).  You can read the full report on the City of Frederick’s website.  For this post, I am focusing solely on the recommendations. 

First, and the great news is this recommendation is already done, the Committee asked the City to create a Blighted Building Database to track problem buildings.  The Committee felt strongly that the database should be created and updated by City staff – property owners are not required to register and they are not required to pay a fee.  I think it is obvious that a good solid feel for the number of problem properties is the first place to start.

Second, the Committee supported the re-authorization of several existing tax incentives as well as the establishment of new tax credit programs.  These incentives were approved by the Board of Aldermen on July 19 and provide a clear incentive to invest in commercial buildings.
The third recommendation supported a Compounding or Escalating Fine System.  Built on a basic premise (three strikes and you’re out), more than three building code violations in one year and the owner will pay more for each additional violation. 
Fourth – an incentive – if you buy a property and it comes with liens built up due to recommendation#3 – but you have the plans and the money to rehabilitate, then the liens will be forgiven.  This recommendation removes a potential impediment to the sale of blighted buildings – the cost of paying outstanding fees and fines.  In the long term, we all win as the building will be renovated and back on the tax rolls. 

Fifth - a stick – in the creation of a Blighted Building Property Tax – which may ultimately become a fine based on Aldermanic input – that assesses an increased city property tax of five times the base rate on properties that are on the Blighted Building Database for more than one year.  The point of this incentive is to encourage owners to get their buildings off the blighted list.  

Finally, the Committee strongly recommended the establishment of a Property Receivership Program to allow for the appointment of a third party receiver to manage, rehabilitate, market and/or sell distressed properties.  

Next step, going from idea to reality by creating the necessary document, ordinances, etc to enact the recommendations.  While the Committee might take a moment to pause and celebrate this first successful milestone, I can assure you all are committed to seeing this task through to implementation.  Look for more to come. 

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