BAKER — The City Council introduced an ordinance Tuesday to fight blight by streamlining the process for levying fines against owners of property determined to be a health or safety hazard.
The council will vote on the proposed ordinance at its Sept. 22 meeting.
The proposal mirrors state and federal ordinances, allowing the city to “seek to eliminate blighted property, unsafe structures and equipment, unlawful structures and structures unfit for human occupancy, housing violations, or public nuisances.”
The proposed ordinance would not change what is considered a blighted property, only the process of enforcing the law. Currently, Baker city workers can cut tall grass on a property, remove junk cars or tear down hazardous buildings after properly contacting the owner. However, the city can recover its costs only by placing a lien on the property or a fine on the East Baton Rouge parish property tax rolls.
“People seem immune to those liens,” said Mayor Harold Rideau.
Under the proposed ordinance, offending property owners would still receive notice before the city acts and could be fined up to $500 for violations. However, the Louisiana Municipal Association would handle some of the legal procedures as well as collections on the fines.
A judge who handles similar cases in Baton Rouge would spend three hours during two days every month hearing property blight cases at a cost of $175 per hour to the city, Rideau said.
City attorney Ken Fabre stressed that homeowners would have more rights under the proposed ordinance. They could appeal a ruling by the city appointed judge all the way to the Louisiana Supreme Court if they wished.
Other municipalities that have moved to similar systems are seeing results, Fabre said, citing New Orleans as one example.
“This can be a good thing. It can change the face of a city,” he told the council.
In addition to cleaning up the city, the proposed ordinance would probably bring in money or at least break even on the administrative costs, Rideau said.
In other business, state Rep. Regina Ashford Barrow, who addressed the council as part of her campaign for the state Senate District 15 seat, expressed her opposition to a report that suggests moving BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo from Baker to another, as yet to be determined, location in Baton Rouge.
“Everything negative, they want to put it on us. But the zoo is good, so they want to take it away … . It’s like a lightweight fighting a heavyweight,” he said, referring to Baker officials trying to keep the zoo in its current location.