Edward Sieger has a great report on Roger Ruggles’ new anti-blight plan:
Easton City Councilman Roger Ruggles said he plans to bring a vacant property law to council next month that would require owners to register their empty buildings and pay an annual fee based on how long a building has stood dormant.
Ruggles, who chairs city council’s planning committee, said the ordinance will be based on one in use in Wilmington, Del., since 2003. That ordinance assesses a $500 fee for properties vacant for at least one year but less than two years and up to $5,000 for those vacant for at least 10 years with an additional $500 for each year thereafter.
Ruggles said he’s spoken briefly to the police department, which supports the idea of a comprehensive list of the city’s empty buildings that would, in part, let patrolmen know which properties should be empty…
About 360 of the city’s roughly 8,539 properties are either vacant lots or house an empty building, according to Becky Bradley, Easton’s planning and codes director.
This is the program I teased in this Patch column back in December.
The fairness argument for this proposal is impenetrable. Vacant land and properties decrease the value of neighboring properties as much as 20%. If you have a vacant property, you’re imposing a tax on nearby properties. It’s unfair, and the vacant property owner should have to pay that external cost.
This is a big problem with foreclosed bank-owned properties. Paul Muschick has an excellent article on how this problem is playing out in South Whitehall. These properties decrease home values throughout the whole neighborhood, but banks just sit on them because they don’t want to eat the losses. But in doing so, they’re passing the costs on to local governments.
Each foreclosure costs local governments $20,000. Three foreclosures = one more teacher you have to lay off:
Local governments should not let the moochers pass these costs on to taxpayers. Levying financial penalties on vacant properties is exactly the right way to fix this problem.