BAKER — The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt an ordinance streamlining the process of cleaning up blighted and unsafe property in Baker.
The new law does not change the kinds of violations targeted, which include abandoned buildings, hazardous structures, fire hazards, unsafe equipment, and code violations.
Under the new ordinance, offending property owners will still receive notice before the city acts and could be fined up to $500 for violations. However, The Louisiana Municipal Association will handle some of the legal procedures as well as collections on the fines.
The city will appoint a hearing officer to levy fines as well as consider appeals by property owners.
Under the previous law, Baker city workers could cut tall grass on a property, remove junk cars or tear down hazardous buildings after following a procedure for contacting the owner. However, the city could only recover its costs by placing a lien on the property or adding the amount owed to the person’s property tax bill.
The new law is just one step toward improving the way blighted property is handled in the city.
“Within 60 to 90 days there will be another ordinance proposed with more detail about what (the Louisiana Municipal Association) will be allowed to do,” City Attorney Ken Fabre said.
Baker is one of the first cities in the state to overhaul their blighted property laws in this way and will set an example that other municipalities are likely to follow, he said.
While working on this ordinance, the council and Fabre were careful to protect property owners’ rights, council member Pete Heine said.
Heine gave the shuttered and soon-to-be demolished Pizza Hut building on La. 19 as an example of a blighted property.
“It makes the city look better (to clean up these properties),” he said.
In other business, the council again voted unanimously in favor of a resolution to seek to put a 5 percent hotel stay tax on the Nov. 21 ballot. If approved by voters, the tax would be levied beginning Jan. 1.
The council had voted for the resolution at a special meeting on Sept. 5. The second vote was necessary to amend the canvassing date, when the city council verifies the vote in a public meeting, to Dec. 8.
The state bond commission had given the city the Nov. 24 date, but the secretary of state requested that it be changed to allow enough time to confirm the votes, Mayor Harold Rideau said.
Fire Chief Danny Edwards, who worked with Rideau on the initiative, stressed that Baker residents would not have to pay the tax “unless they use a hotel in the city.”
Two hotels are located in Baker — a Western Inn on Main St. and Executive Inn on La. 19.
Proceeds from the tax would be earmarked for improvement of parks in the city. Baker currently has one city-owned park, City Park, located on Groom Road.
The city’s annual Buffalo Festival will take place at City Park this weekend, featuring a parade, buffalo wing cooking contest and other events. More information is available at the city’s website: cityof bakerla.com.
Heine also announced that a family fun day will be held at the Chamberlain Ave. Park from noon to 4 p.m. Oct. 3.