(St. Joseph,MO) To combat the growing number of vacant and blighted properties around town, the city council is taking on three new ordinances to track and fine poor property management. Monday the council voted to establish a vacant property registry, increase property maintenance violation fees and allocate additional funds to speed up vacant building demolition.
“This is a big step in the right direction. Most of us that ran in this last election cycle, other than crime and mental health issues, the appearance of our city was probably third on the agenda for a lot of us,”City Councilmember At Large Brian Myers said. “We got three big ordinances passed tonight, hopefully we get them enforced and it will help the city look like a better place.”
Planning and Community Development Director Clint Thompson said to help encourage property owners to better maintain their homes and lawns, the city will be quadrupling property violation fees.
"The current structure goes from $25, $50, $75 and so the increase in those particular fines will be used as a deterrent to encourage property owners to maintain their property," Thompson said.
New property maintenance fees will increase from a base of $25 for first time violations to $100 and increase incrementally with second offense fine of $200; third offense fine of $300 and the fourth offense fine of $450.
The council also voted to establish a vacant structure registry to monitor progress on the 478 vacant residential homes throughout the city.
“The intent is to have a better understanding of how many current vacant structures exist within St. Joseph, but also identify a plan and an action for each particular property to ensure that either the property is maintained by the property owner, or brought into compliance or [have] the availability for the property to be transferred to a new owner that has the ability to maintain the structure," Thompson said.
Owners of homes that have sat vacant and unattained for longer that six months will be required to register the property with the city and pay a $200 registration fee every six months to ensure the building is being managed. Thompson said a lien will be put on vacant properties with delinquent registration fees older than a year, after the deadline has passed the home will be subject to foreclosure proceedings.
"Out of town property owners that come in, they buy property that's on the tax rolls, and then the board them up and let them sit and rot,” Russell Moore, council member for district four, said. “That is not what St. Joe should be about. St. Joe should be able fixing up the neighborhoods as best we can."
For buildings that can’t be brought into compliance by the owners or are too far gone for resale, the council allocated $100,000 from the Landfill fund to create a vacant structure stabilization and demolition program.
"Currently the city of St. Joseph uses federal funds for our demolition program. The utilization of general funds will speed up the process allowed to either stabilize or to potentially demolish a structure that is beyond repair,"Thompson said. "The goal is to stabilize and save as many structures as possible, because once a building is lost, it's gone forever.”
St. Joseph is using approximately $150,000 in HUD Community Block Grants (CBG) to demolished 12 to 15 homes annually. Thompson estimates the additional $100,000 from the city would allow for the demolition of an additional six homes in 2019.
According to Thompson, the new property maintenance violation fees will take effect in January and the new registration program will kick-off in early 2019.