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Council keeps focus on reducing blight

BY Spencer Durham - sdurham@chronicle-tribune.com

The Marion City Council took another step in its effort to tackle and reduce blight in the city as it approved the Vacant and Abandoned Real Property Ordinance.

The ordinance serves as a companion to the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance passed in May. The new ordinance defines an abandoned property as one that has been vacant for more than 90 days and has been issued an order for action (such as a maintenance or safety problem) by the city that has gone unresolved for more than 30 days.

Owners of abandoned buildings would be required to register with the city and pay a registration fee based on the type of building. Residential building owners whose properties house three or fewer units would pay $250 a year, and non-residential owners would pay $500 the first year, increasing to $1,000 for the second year and then holding at $1,500 per year the third year and after.

The penalty for failure to register an abandoned property is $300 per property. Out-of-state owners of abandoned properties will also have to register contact information with an agent living within 30 miles of the property. A fine would be levied if an owner fails to do so.

Much like the Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance, which requires landlords and rental property owners to register with the city, the ordinance passed Tuesday night aims to hold more property owners accountable.

Council members Dave Homer and Deb Cain helped craft the ordinance. The two showed a slideshow of Marion properties in various states of disrepair that would be defined as abandoned under the ordinance.

“Ideally, we want to hold these property owners responsible...,” Homer said.

Council members discussed how ramshackle properties have led to other issues the city is dealing with, such as crime.

“This issue with abandoned buildings in some of these rundown neighborhoods lends itself to the crime issues we’re fighting right now,” Homer said. “We have neighborhoods that are on the tipping point …”

Homer encouraged residents, neighborhood associations and communities to pay attention and notify the city about blighted properties. He said little things, such as the Garfield Neighborhood Association’s National Night Out event with law enforcement can go a long way in improving community and the standard of living for people in Marion.

Tuesday night was the second, public hearing for the ordinance. About a half-a-dozen Marion residents gave public comment in support of the ordinance, including Linda Wilk and former council member Paul Thompson.

Thompson, though supportive of the ordinance, questioned how the city could enforce it. Homer told the former council member that his concern was a valid one.

Homer said it will take “several factors” in order to enforce the ordinance including swift action from the legal department, leadership by the mayor and cooperation by the Marion Police Department.

“The police department has to be engaged in this issue,” Homer stressed. “... anything short of that won’t work.”

Thompson said the city needs to “put some teeth” in the ordinance.

Jerry Foustnight, building commissioner, acknowledged his department’s small staff and said the ordinance will allow him to enforce things that the department could not in the past.

“We will try to do the best we can,” he said.

The council moved to suspened the rules and passed the ordinance after the public hearing. It passed unanimously and will become law.

In other council action, an ordinance to amend an animal control ordinance passed after a second reading. The ordinance states that pets must not be left unattended outside if it is colder than 32 degrees or warmer than 85 degrees or if there is an extreme weather advisory, such as a wind chill warning or a tornado warning.

A petition to annex Central Indiana Ethanol-owned property into the city moved onto a third reading.

The 23 acres in question is the site of the old OmniSource metal recycling plant.

The site is slated for development, though few details have been released by CIE. The city created a tax increment financing (TIF) district in 2005 for CIE. However, a separate petition would need to be presented to the city council in order to incorporate the newly annexed land into the TIF district. 

Phil Stephenson, attorney for the city council, said after the July 17 council meeting that it was his understanding that CIE was working on a tax increment financing district petition.