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Quincy may revamp system of fines for blighted properties

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  November 14, 2012 03:57 PM

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Quincy officials may look to change ordinances governing blighted properties, after efforts to clean up neighborhoods have proven costly and time-consuming.

According to Ward 1 City Councilor Margaret Laforest, the issue is prevalent throughout her ward, with some properties in severe disrepair, and others with chronic hoarding problems.

“It has been a real priority of mine since I took office,” Laforest said. “I actually keep a running list of where the problems are, what we’re doing, and Ward 1 has a lot of properties that slowly, but surely, we’ve been working on.”

The most recent was a dilapidated camper that has been parked for decades in the backyard of a home on Sea Street.

The camper had been rusting and rotting for 20 years, Laforest said, with grass growing tall around the property.

The city issued three tickets for $100 each to remove the camper, before the owners finally complied on Halloween. Yet the camper was in such disrepair, it fell apart while being towed, and has to be placed in a nearby church parking lot until a flatbed could retrieve it.

Even then, the item caused problems, as throughout Halloween, Quincy police had to kick people out and then monitor the door-less camper to ensure no one went in it.

Despite the city’s efforts and the cost of police detail, the fines still stand at $300 – which the residents are appealing, Laforest said.

Hopes for a remedy in the courts aren't high, either, Laforest said, as the courts often rule in favor of compliance rather than the city’s fee.

The property is among several in the city that are problematic. Elsewhere, a rotting roof on a home addition is situated next to a wood-burning stove. Other properties have abandoned cars or abandoned boats.

Consequently, Laforest said, she has begun looking into the possibility of changing the way the fine system works. Rather than the one inspection officer in the city issuing fines one at a time, he perhaps could issue one fine that would build up daily.

“Maybe that’s something we need to be talking about, [change how] we’ve been very flexible and understanding. Each incident has a story, but at some time we need to collect the funds because it’s impacting staff time,” Laforest said.

Laforest said she is also having conversations about an ordinance change similar to one recently passed in the Department of Public Works, where fines are put as liens on property taxes.

“A lot of them we’ve seen some resolution on, but it's taken a lot of effort,” Laforest said. “It’s impacting property values, impacting quality of life, and we want people to be taking care of their properties.”

The Department of Inspections would still have discretion around who should pay the fines, Laforest said.

The issue most likely will be brought up in the next couple of weeks at the City Council. In the meantime the city is working on a couple dozen properties that are troublesome in some respect.

“It’s just not what we’re looking for in our neighborhoods. They are too high value to be brought down by this blight,” Laforest said.

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