COVINGTON — Newton County has joined other jurisdictions in the east metro area and throughout the state in approving a blight tax ordinance to help address dilapidated residential and commercial properties.
Under the ordinance, which was approved unanimously by commissioners at their May 21 meeting, owners whose properties have been deemed blighted will have an opportunity to improve the properties or face a 7-mill increase in property taxes.
“For the program to work, it has to hurt a little,” said attorney Partrick Dodson, who presented the ordinance to commissioners.
Once a blighted property has been remediated, the owner will be eligible for a millage rate decrease of .2 mills for up to two years. If the remediation costs less than $25,000, they will get the discounted rate for one year; if it costs more than $25,000, they will get the discounted rate for two years.
Additional revenue collected from the blight tax will go toward community redevelopment.
Dodson stressed that the blight tax cannot be applied to any property that is a primary residence.
He also pointed out that the blight tax won’t work as an incentive to improve all blighted properties.
“This is a tool to get these properties into better condition on those properties where the property tax is being paid,” he said. “This is not going to work when the property tax is not being paid.”
Dodson said the blight tax could be applied to residential structures that are vacant or used for purposes other than a primary residence; blighted commercial or industrial structures; and brownfields.
The property has to meet certain criteria to be considered blighted. The property owner must be notified in writing and a complaint filed in Magistrate Court, followed by a hearing. If the property is determined to be blighted, the owner is given a specified period of time to make improvements before the tax increase is applied.
Development Services Director Judy Johnson said the blight tax will be a tool her department can use to make property owners accountable, including out-of-state investors who purchased properties in the county during the recession.
Johnson said citizens made it clear during the county’s strategic planning process that blighted properties are a concern.
“We listened to what our community said, and our community has said we don’t want these types of situations,” she said.
The city of Conyers implemented a blight tax in December 2017, and Covington followed suit in July 2018. Other jurisdictions that have implemented a similar tax include Albany, Griffin, Americus, Sandy Springs, Savannah, Dublin and Cobb County.