AUGUSTA — A vacant buildings ordinance modified to apply only to empty buildings that are also abandoned, in foreclosure, unsecured or neglected is up for a final council vote Thursday.

The ordinance as originally proposed would have required the owners of buildings vacant for 60 days or more to register with the city and pay a fee — $200 for commercial entities such as banks or $100 for individual owners — every six months and provide contact information for someone who could be reached should there be a problem with the property.

The goal of the ordinance is to help the city prevent and address problems arising mainly from buildings foreclosed upon by large banks and left vacant, unsecured or unmaintained, according to Ward 2 Councilor Darek Grant who, along with at-large Councilors Cecil Munson and Dale McCormick, drafted the proposal on the Vacant Properties Committee. By requiring the owners of such buildings to register and to provide contact information for a responsible person, the city at least would be able to reach somebody to order the person to take care of problems at the properties.

Councilors meet to consider a final vote on the proposed ordinance Thursday. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

“It’s a small step, but an important one, that would create a point of contact for someone who can take action on the property in a timely manner,” Grant said Tuesday of the proposed ordinance. “It has been a huge problem. There are places where the doors are obviously kicked in, there are raccoons living there or somebody living there who shouldn’t be there, and we can’t get hold of someone to resolve the problem. These buildings come to the point where they become no longer salvageable. And who suffers? The neighbors. It’s the community that suffers with this kind of neglect.”

However, building owners, residents and city councilors expressed concern that the original ordinance draft would have had the unintended consequence of forcing fees upon people who don’t deserve it: homeowners who may need to leave their homes behind for a variety of reasons, such as for medical care or to help tend to others, as well as people selling their homes, and landlords who either are renovating their property or have buildings that are between tenants.

In response, councilors directed the city staff to modify the ordinance so it would apply not to all vacant buildings but instead only to vacant buildings that also are abandoned. The city ordinance’s definition of what makes a building considered abandoned is modeled on recently passed state legislation, which includes any building that has been foreclosed upon.

Vacant buildings also could be considered abandoned and thus subject to the requirements of the ordinance if any one of the follow applies to mortgaged properties:

• Doors and windows are boarded up, broken or left unlocked.

• Rubbish, trash or debris has observably accumulated.

• The premises are deteriorating and constitute a threat to public health or safety.

• Reports of trespassing, vandalism or other illegal acts on the premises have been made to local police.

• A code enforcement officer has determined the premises are unfit for occupancy.

• The mortgagor is dead and there is no evidence an heir or representative has taken possession of the premises.

Grant said the language was added to clarify what type of property the ordinance would regulate. He said the ordinance should give neighbors and the city a way to seek to have problem properties addressed in situations in which now they have little or no recourse.

“We don’t have the staff and resources to go out and monitor each property in the city,” Grant said. “But drive around, you can tell the properties being neglected or going through foreclosure or that have been abandoned.”

Specific exceptions also are noted in the proposed Augusta ordinance on vacant buildings: those owned by people in assisted-living facilities, properties that are listed for sale or being actively managed as rental properties, primary residences owned by deployed members of the armed forces, vacation or resort facilities, residences of people on extended vacations or with alternative living arrangements who intend to return to the property, or residences undergoing renovation.

South Grove Street resident William Downing, during city councilors’ most recent discussion of the issue Sept. 17, said he supports the ordinance because it could help his neighborhood address a derelict vacant building across the street from his home. He said the building is being allowed to deteriorate, including a collapsed ceiling, and no maintenance has been done to the grounds. He said a notice posted on the building lists a Florida phone number, and a man visited the property last year who said the company servicing the mortgage on the property sent him to assess the property and that he also would be back to clean up the property, mow the lawn and pick up a large tree which fell there.

That didn’t happen.

“Unfortunately, none of that work has been done,” Downing said. “It’s an attractive neighborhood, but I’m concerned the neighborhood could tip one way or the other” because of the dilapidated property.

Another committee, led by Ward 4 Councilor Anna Blodgett, is working on creating a new property maintenance ordinance that could apply to all buildings in the city. Grant said that ordinance could pair with the vacant and abandoned properties registry to give the city the ability to prevent buildings from being allowed to deteriorate.

Councilors on Thursday also are scheduled to:

• issue a resolve praising the bipartisan efforts and public service of Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta;

• read a proclamation for White Cane Safety Day;

• authorize CTV-7 to produce and broadcast the City Council and Board of Education candidates’ forum Oct. 6 at Cony High School;

• authorize a beer tent at the city-owned Bond Brook Recreation Area during Augusta Trails’ fourth annual Tread Fest on Oct. 18; and

• adopt General Assistance maximum levels.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj