Georgia city delays plan to penalize blighted properties

December 22, 2019 GMT

STATESBORO, Ga. (AP) — One Georgia city is giving up for now on an attempt to penalize blighted properties with higher taxes.

The Statesboro City Council is tabling the plan, after the city’s mayor proposed a much lower levy, The Statesboro Herald reported.

Instead, the decision will be made in February, after three new council members who defeated incumbents take office in January.

Earlier this month, the council voted in favor of a plan that would have imposed city property taxes on blighted properties that are seven times the normal tax rate. For example, owners of a property valued at $100,000 who are billed for city taxes of $292, would have an additional $2,046 penalty tacked on.

A municipal court and the city council would have to find a property blighted before owners would be penalized.

Mayor Jonathan McCollar had opposed the steep penalty. He announced he was using his mayoral authority to adjust appropriations so that the penalty would only be 1% above regular taxes. That’s $3 on the $100,000 property.

In a community with a high poverty rate, McCollar said the penalty could deprive struggling families of inherited property and their only means to “build generational wealth.” Many blighted properties are owned by groups of heirs, with ultimate ownership cloudy.

McCollar is also proposing a compromise that would exempt all residential property from the penalty. If adopted, that plan would impose a penalty of 10 times the regular tax on blighted commercial properties in downtown areas and seven times in the rest of the city.

Homes where people live were already exempt under the original wording and could not have a penalty tax imposed on them, regardless of the version the council adopts.

The plan calls for buildings that were improved to meet city standards to get a reward, paying only half the normal tax rate for three years.

Council members could have overridden McCollar’s amendment with four votes, but didn’t act.