Raise taxes on blighted buildings; Neglect costs neighbors, hurts Lexington

Several legal notices were attached to the plywood covering the front entrance of a house at 340 American Avenue.
Several legal notices were attached to the plywood covering the front entrance of a house at 340 American Avenue.

Every homeowner knows two things:

1. Vacancy is bad for houses.

2. Vacant houses are bad for neighborhoods.

That's why the work of Lexington's newly active Vacant Property Review Commission is so important and the Urban County Council should support it by increasing the property tax on abandoned buildings.

Although the commission was authorized in 2009, it wasn't until late last year that members were appointed and the true work of defining and identifying vacant and blighted properties throughout Lexington began.

The tough first phase of that work is well under way.

The commission found more than 330 properties suspected as vacant, identified because they didn't have water service for a year, had repeated building code violations or had been reported as blighted.

In coming months, property owners will be contacted and given the opportunity to clarify what's going on, fix the problem or appeal the classification.

The second phase, equally tough, will be to put these buildings back into use.

Some owners will be moved to action simply by being on the list. They'll fix up their buildings so they can be occupied or sell them to someone who will.

Others will need more encouragement.

This is where the council must show tough love and increase the property tax on vacant properties to create an incentive for owners to take action.

The commission hasn't decided how much of an increase it will ask for, but the city's law department has suggested that the upper end should be one dollar per $100 of assessed value.

That would change the current property tax on a $100,000 home of about $1,164, to $2,164 on an abandoned home.

The idea isn't to punish owners but to change the numbers so it's in their economic self-interest to sell or rehabilitate their property.

There will be some grumbling about infringing on property rights, about the expense of fixing up long-neglected properties, and so forth.

The council should not heed it. Abandoned, blighted properties can drag down the quality of life and property values on an entire street, even neighborhood, and lead to increased crime. All of this costs other property owners and taxpayers dearly.

It's time to take action.