Vacant lot problem has Augusta taking steps but work remains

AUGUSTA, Ga (WJBF) - Right at about three thousand lots, where the city notified property owners of violations and ended up cutting about half of those, costing taxpayers more than $400 thousand dollars a year.

Tuesday afternoon, Augusta Commissioners approved new penalties to come to grips with the issue.

Those include speeding up the notification process so weeks do not have to pass  after a compliant to get the lot cut.

Second, a sharp increase in cutting fees from $50 dollars an hour and a $20 dollar administrative fee, to $200 dollars an hour and a $100 dollar administrative fee.

But this could result in more property owners not paying the fees and the city foreclosing on the lots, so there is still work to do so Augusta doesn't just end up with more vacant lots to take care of.

"We're going to have to do some research, figure out with our legal department what is appropriate. So if we continue rack up all of these charges what's the next step? Is there a program where we could give it to the neighbor for a dollar or is there a program where the city could take it, which is not ideal but how do we work towards that so we get economic development instead of just a bunch of vacant lots?" says Environmental Services Director Lori Videtto.

The next step for the city is a public education campaign. Under the new policy property owners will not be getting repeat notices that their lots are overgrown. One notice will be going out to all property owners.

So starting next year, once the city gets a complaint about a lot, crews can get cutting and the owners will face three hundred dollar fee.

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