AUGUSTA — A sign mounted outside of a South Belfast Avenue home sums up what property owner Paul Marcot told city councilors recently — the single-story ranch home is “not abandoned.”

Marcot got a letter from the city — on Christmas Eve, he said — notifying him that under the terms of the city’s new Abandoned and Vacant Buildings Ordinance, adopted in October 2015, he needed to register a building he owns near the intersection of South Belfast Avenue and Bolton Hill Road and pay a fee of $100 every six months that it remains vacant and abandoned.

Marcot said the building, which is near where he lives, might be vacant, but it is far from abandoned. He’s got plans for the place, though none of them are immediate. He bought the property from the bank that owned it before him as an investment and to prevent it from being bought by somebody who wouldn’t take care of it. He plans to fix it up, with his son Josh, at some point in the future.

And he doesn’t see why he should be charged a fee of $100 every six months, on top of his property tax bill, for a property he intends to keep an eye on. He can check on it easily because it’s near his home, and he put his name and phone number on the sign.

“If I have a house, whether I live in it or not, if it’s not a hazard, why can’t I own a house without paying more taxes to the city?” he said. “I agree that abandoned property that has no ownership needs to be addressed, but not my little piece of property. I’m paying $1,200 a year now (in taxes) and not using any city services for that property and now have to pay $100 to register it?”

City councilors, after Marcot explained his situation at their Jan. 14 meeting, said Marcot’s property is not what they meant to target with the new ordinance, and they don’t think he should have to register his building. They also said the city needs to refine how it determines whether properties are subject to the ordinance, and what the city staff should do when someone wants to contest whether his or her property should be required to be added to the abandoned and vacant properties registry.

Councilors said Marcot’s property doesn’t sound abandoned, partly because he checks on it regularly, making it “actively managed,” which is one of the exceptions in the ordinance.

“You own this property. No one is living there, but you’re actively managing it,” said at-large Councilor Dale McCormick. “You look at it regularly. You have plans to refurbish it. I don’t believe you should even have to pay the fee. We’re after absentee owners.”

The goal of the ordinance, councilors said when they passed it last year, was to provide a way for the city to reach the owners of abandoned and vacant properties, in case the properties aren’t maintained or a problem arises that needs to be addressed. Property owners in the city complained that financial institutions were foreclosing on properties and then not maintaining them, creating a nuisance and potentially lowering property values in their neighborhoods.

Development Director Matt Nazar said letters were sent out to the owners of properties on a list of sites the Fire Department has maintained over the years, which are believed to have been abandoned and/or of concern to the department. Nazar said the letters went out to the owners of vacant properties the city thinks may have been abandoned.

Nazar said the process for such property owners to contest that finding is to make contact with the city staff, and the staff would review information about the property, assess whether it should remain subject to the registration requirement, and communicate that back to the owner. Nazar said that usually happens within a few days.

The ordinance itself appears to be silent on what property owners can do to challenge a determination that their building is abandoned and vacant, if they think their properties should not be subject to the registration requirement.

Marcot said he contacted the city staff, including in the code enforcement office, the mayor, and city councilors, after he got the letter from the city indicating he needed to register his building. He said everyone he spoke to was friendly and responsive but didn’t know quite what to do about his problem.

Mayor David Rollins speculated that the list the city used to determine whether Marcot’s property was abandoned and vacant was generated when the house was still owned by a bank. He said Marcot’s case shows the city needs an appeals process as part of the ordinance. He also said it sounded as though Marcot would not have to pay the fee or register the property.

City councilors also indicated they think Marcot’s property should be removed from the list of abandoned and vacant properties and not be subject to the fee and registration requirements.

Marcot offered what he thinks would be a more effective way for the city to address the need to monitor abandoned and vacant buildings. He said if the city’s goal, as councilors stated, was to have contact information in case problems arise at an abandoned property, then the owners of vacant and abandoned buildings should be required to post a sign, as he has done on his property, providing the name and phone number of the owner or caretaker of the property.

Doing so, he noted, would provide the city, and others, with a way to contact property owners, without the need to maintain a registry.

He said if the owners of buildings don’t comply with that requirement, then the city should charge a fine.

City councilors are considering a property management ordinance that would require the owners of properties in the city — whether vacant or occupied — to maintain them so they do not fall into disrepair or become unsightly.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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