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St. Albans City Council move would require vacant building registration

St. Albans City Council gave preliminary approval to a new article of city code that would require the registration of vacant buildings and assess fees of $200 to $1,500 on owners of buildings left vacant for long periods.

In other action Monday evening, council approved a property swap with the Washington Street Church of Christ and gave final approval to water and sewer bond issues totaling $11.8 million.

The proposed vacant building regulation would require any owner of vacant property to register the property or be subject to an annual fine of up to $1,000.

The city would be authorized to collect a fee of $200 from an owner of a building that has been vacant at least 1 year but less than 2 years. The fee would increase to $400 for a property vacant 2 to 3 years, $600 for 3 to 4 years, $800 for 4 to 5 years, $1,000 for 5 to 6 years and $1,500 for a property vacant more than 6 years.

The city would have a lien on property to secure the payment of fines or fees due and could sue the owner in Kanawha Circuit Court. The city would deposit all fees and fines in a separate account that could be used for public safety purposes or to repair, close or demolish vacant buildings.

Owners could ask the city to exempt a property from registration and would have the right to challenge the city's actions in circuit court.

In a notice accompanying the proposal, council says the fees are reasonable and are not for the purpose of obtaining general revenue but may result in the collection of fees that exceed the cost of enforcement. Therefore a public hearing will be held prior to a second reading.

The proposal passed by unanimous voice vote. If it is approved at a second reading it will become a city law.

The property swap with the church involves the city closing a portion of Seventh Avenue and distributing the property to the church and CSX, which own the adjacent land. In exchange, the church will donate a lot to provide a right-of-way for a new alley to connect an old alley to Washington Street.

Mayor Dick Callaway said, "This is helpful to the folks who use the baseball diamond and the church itself. It allows them (the church) to have their parking lot and gives (people who use the ballpark) egress."

The proposal was approved by unanimous voice vote.

The water and sewer bond issues were up for discussion a third time, which was required. They were approved by unanimous voice vote.

Callaway said the city originally hoped to invest $10 million in upgrades to its water and sewer systems. But thanks to money saved by Chapman Technical Group, the city's project engineer, and money that is expected to be saved by refinancing some bonds at a lower interest rate, the city will be able to invest almost $12 million.

John Stump of the law firm Steptoe & Johnson, the city's bond counsel, said it is expected that the bonds will be issued within the next few months.

In other action, council approved the payment of current invoices totaling $19,895; approved several budget revisions; and, as in past years, approved pool passes for city employees.

During announcements, Callaway noted that early voting in the municipal general election began Friday and continues through May 29 in the clerk's office in the Municipal Utility Commission's Conference Room. Voting is from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 25.

City offices will be closed May 27 in observance of Memorial Day.

The general election is June 1, when polls will be open 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.


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