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Blight ordinance passes in New Castle

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By Brent Schanding

Landmark News Service

Shabby-property owners will face harsher tax penalties under New Castle's new blight ordinance.

City commissioners Tuesday unanimously passed an ordinance assessing a $10 per $100 assessed ad valorem tax for those who fail to adequately maintain their property. That could mean a $5,000 purse pinch for offenders who own a $50,000 property.

The ordinance loosely coincides with citywide efforts to spruce up the tiny town and spawn renewed interest around its historic Main Street.

Eminence and Campbellsburg passed similar ordinances last year, following amended legislation that allows Kentucky's smaller cities to more aggressively fight blight.

"It provides cities with a mechanism to eliminate some blighted and dilapidated properties," City Attorney Joe Yates said.

New Castle's ordinance also gives the city expanded powers to exercise eminent domain over any abandoned property identified by a yet-to-be-established Vacant Property Review Commission.

That three-member, mayor-appointed, commission will mostly target vacant and neglected properties that appear dilapidated, unsafe, vermin infested or otherwise dangerous, the ordinance states.

Some tax delinquent property owners would also be forced to forfeit their land to the city, according to the ordinance.

"This would give the government agency the power to condemn property and resell it for public use," Yates said.

But those would be rare instances, he added.

City Police Chief John Porter supports the ordinance as something that will hopefully clean up the city. Porter pulls double-duty as the towns code enforcement officer and says under existing ordinances, liens can be placed on properties whose owners fail to repair them.

"But nine times out of 10, a letter to the homeowner takes care of it," Porter said. "If they work with me, I work with them."

The city's weaker "nuisance" ordinance also gives Porter the power to cite property owners for tall weeds, broken windows, junk cars and other "unsightly" violations.

"But I've never had to come to that point where I cite them," he said.

Yates said that's partly because the existing ordinances deals with terms that are broadly defined.

"What is unsightly in an objective sense," he said. "The new ordinance puts some teeth into what is dilapidated."

Porter agrees and says the blight initiative will only benefit downtown renovation efforts.

"They'll either have to clean it up or they'll have to pay," Porter said of offenders. "If you can't maintain a building, maybe you shouldn't own it."

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