Blight tax having effect without enforcement

COVINGTON - A blight tax approved by the Covington City Council in July is having the intended effect without actually being assessed. Permits are up for homes being renovated or rebuilt, and the city has not yet instigated the tax against a home or property owner.

Council member Kenneth Morgan asked Planning Director Scott Gaither about the effectiveness of the blight tax during the council’s meeting on Oct. 1.

“I noticed there is a lot of new construction going on throughout the city,” stated Morgan. “I do know that we are keeping a lookout on residential. Have you seen an increase as far as people coming in to get permits to either demolish or redo their homes?”

Gaither replied that the city has seen an increase in permitting for working on houses.

“Before the blight tax was adopted, city marshals went out and identified structures (60 houses on 38 streets) that would fit the blight tax standards,” he said. “During the several months it took to get the blight tax adopted, a lot of those structures have been addressed by the property owners and through the court system.

“To this day and time, we have not assessed a blight tax on any structure,” added Gaither. “Our whole purpose and intent is to gain compliance, and those structures are coming into compliance.”

The ordinance was designed to motivate owners of private properties that have fallen into conditions of slum and blight to either rehabilitate their properties or face a seven-fold increase in property tax until the property is fixed or demolished.

Once a piece of property had been identified as being in a blighted condition and was vacant, the property owner would be assessed an increased ad valorem tax of seven times the millage rate until it is cleaned up.

If the property was improved and no longer considered blighted, the property owner would be eligible for a decreased tax rate of .5 mills less than the city’s millage rate at that time for up to four years, based on the cost of the improvements.

Gaither noted that several houses have also been demolished to possibly make room for new structures.

“As of today, we had three houses in the last week — that were in such substandard shape that they were not livable — that have come down and were razed,” he said. “Hopefully those lots will become available lots for people who want to build houses and put down roots in Covington.”

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Born and raised in Decatur, Ga. Graduated from Shorter College in Rome, Ga. in 1979 with B.A. in Communications. Worked in community newspapers for 25 years. Started at Rockdale Citizen/Newton Citizen in January 2016.