CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nitro City Council members are taking action against the owners of vacant properties.
Council members advanced a measure Tuesday evening that that would impose penalties on unregistered vacant structures.
The amendment requires property owners to register vacant properties with the city no later than 30 days after the building inspector qualifies a structure as vacant.
The ordinance defines a vacant structure as one that is not occupied. It excludes properties that are under construction or being renovated and properties that are being "actively marketed."
Councilman John Montgomery explained that a property is being "actively marketed" if the property owner is performing the activities necessary to sell it, such as using a Realtor to facilitate the sale.
Montgomery also said that the Ordinance Committee made this distinction to prevent the owners of vacant structures from circumventing the ordinance.
Any failure to register a vacant structure will result in a $1,000 fine per violation. Every 12 months that the owner fails to register a structure after the initial violation will result in an additional $1,000 fine.
The ordinance also states that an annual fee shall be assessed from the owner for each vacant structure he or she owns. A structure that is vacant for less than 12 months will not be subject to the annual fee.
After 12 months, the city will impose a $200 fee for each vacant structure. The fine doubles after two years, and continues to increase each year a property remains vacant up to $1,500 after 6 years.
The $1,500 fine will continue until the property is no longer vacant, Montgomery said.
"We're not the only city addressing this," said City Recorder Rita Cox, who was filling in for Mayor Dave Casebolt while he is out of town.
She said that Nitro is falling in line with Charleston, Huntington, St. Albans, and Dunbar by instituting such measures.
Nitro resident Harvey Peyton addressed council with his concerns about a vacant property located between 27th and 28th streets along 1st Avenue.
He said that the property, which was once a gas station, has been abandoned for 12 to 14 years and has become a hotspot for tractor-trailer drivers to leave their trucks.
The influx of tractor-trailers caused a problem last week when one became stuck in the mud and had to be towed, but not before throwing mud across 1st Avenue and obstructing traffic on a rainy day.
Peyton did say that the mayor's response to the situation was "rapid," but the issues with this property go beyond this particular incident. Peyton's biggest concern is for the safety of children who wait for the school bus and have to cross through the unlit property. He said there are obvious signs of vagrant activity there.
Peyton, an owner of a vacant structure himself, said he is supportive of any efforts to address the problem.
In other business, city council tabled the reading of an agreement with Carl and Cookie Clendenin for the donation of the A-1 Carpet building until City Attorney Johnnie Brown can put the agreement into writing by City Attorney Johnnie Brown.
However, council did pass a motion to form a committee to study the possible uses of the property
The committee is comprised of Casebolt, Police Chief Brian Oxley, Councilwoman Laurie Elkins, Councilman John Montgomery, and City Building Inspector and Fire Marshall Ron King.
Council members also opened four bids, ranging from $9,400 to $18,880 to repair the roof of the fire department. Council voted to form a committee that will review the bids and make a recommendation for city council's approval.
City council also voted to accept Casebolt's appointment of Hershel Facemyre to the Employee Civil Service Commission.
Facemyre has been actively involved in Nitro city government for many years, but he recently took a sabbatical. Cox said Facemyre agreed to serve on the commission because it does not meet on a "regular basis."