OCOEE – If you’re a property owner who owes the city money for service costs relating to the removal of a public nuisance, you’d better pay up soon.
During the Feb. 21 commission meeting, the city approved the second and final reading for an ordinance that provides what city staff hope will be a faster and more effective method to recover taxpayer money spent on fixing properties found to have a code-enforcement violation that creates a visual eyesore or public hazard for nearby residents.
The ordinance ensures any costs a property owner owes the city for nuisance abatement services will be assessed to his or her tax bill if not fully paid within a specified time period.
“If there’s a swimming pool that’s a hazard because the fence has been knocked down, or if a building is partially burned down — we can demolish it the rest of the way or put a fence around it,” said Al Butler, Ocoee’s director of support services. “Or, say, if there are vagrants coming into the property because the windows and doors are open, then we’ll board that up. All those things are a cost to the city, and this gives us a way to try and recover those costs more quickly by putting it on a tax bill.”
Before the adoption of this ordinance, the city was limited to placing a lien on a property to recover any nuisance abatement costs, which Butler added was futile if the owner had long since abandoned his or her property.
“The concern that I have with it is that it could force undue and unjust costs to potential buyers at a later date." - Christopher Adkins, Ocoee resident
“One of the purposes of this is to make sure the taxpayers in the city don’t have the burden of paying somebody’s misdeeds,” Ocoee Mayor Rusty Johnson said.
However, resident Christopher Adkins was concerned the ordinance could penalize potential unsuspecting home buyers.
“The concern that I have with it is that it could force undue and unjust costs to potential buyers at a later date,” Adkins said.
However, the option of including the costs on the property tax bill as a non-ad valorem tax — which is based on costs of a public service rather than a property’s value — will only serve as a secondary method if the lien option fails.
Before the city resorts to any lien or tax assessment, the city is required to follow a certain procedure. Property owners first are given a demand to remedy a code violation within 15 days. If this demand goes unheeded, the city will fix the violation and charge the owners.
If not paid in full within 30 days, according to the ordinance, the city can then place a lien on the property. If the lien proves unsuccessful in recovering costs, the city will then resort to the tax assessment option.
“It’s something that was well overdue in this city to help clean up some of these problems,” said District 4 Commissioner Joel Keller.
Contact Gabby Baquero at [email protected].