Kennesaw weighing blight tax, upgrades
by Rachel Gray
March 20, 2014 04:00 AM | 2524 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cris Eaton-Welsh
Cris Eaton-Welsh
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KENNESAW — The city of Kennesaw is cleaning up its act one block at a time, with more common sense street naming, a tax on blighted properties and a renovated jail.

The council had its first public hearing on adopting a “blight tax.”

After a yearlong initiative to encourage property owners to clean up, the city plans to punish owners of dilapidated properties or at least threaten the possibility as a strong step to gaining cooperation.

Billed as a “Community Redevelopment Tax Incentive” program, the city would levy a hefty tax on owners of blighted properties. The current draft would hit violators with a tax seven times the amount of the regular property tax millage.

The council could change that amount for the final version. Kennesaw’s current property tax millage rate is 9.5, with another 1.5 mills coming from bond

issuances.

The increase would be applied on the next year’s tax bill. It would not be removed until maintenance work is completed and approved by city staff.

There were no comments or concerns expressed by residents about the blight tax Monday night. The second, and final, public hearing will be at the City Council meeting April 7.

Councilwoman Cris Eaton-Welsh said because there are no major blight issues in Kennesaw, she was not surprised at the lack of public comments.

In fact, she said residents want even more action by the city on the mostly commercial vacant and abandoned properties.

“We are not trying to point anybody out right now. Our staff is really good at finding solutions without this,” said Welsh, who referred to the blight tax as a tool for the city to use “just in case.”

Before a blight tax would be levied against a property owner, an officer or building-code inspector must first deem the property unsafe or abandoned. Or, if a property is not receiving city services, such as garbage pickup, it could be considered uninhabitable and subject to the blight tax.

Welsh said the rebounding economy has increased the time and money spent by new owners on once vacant properties in Kennesaw to spruce up buildings’ both cosmetically for curb appeal and to make structural improvements.

“I think that is a testament to our economic development department,” Welsh said.

A revamped city jail

Renovations will be starting soon on the city jail, and inmates will be temporarily housed at the neighboring Acworth city jail, at a cost of $20 per day per inmate.

On Monday, the City Council voted 4-0, with Church absent, to approve the intergovernmental agreement between the two cities. The agreement is pending approval from the Acworth mayor and aldermen.

“We are very pleased with the on going relationship with Chief Dennard and the City of Acworth,” Kennesaw Chief of Police Bill Westenberger said.

At the beginning of March, the City Council authorized no more than $720,000 to be spent on the jail remodel project. The Kennesaw Police Department and the 25-year-old city jail are both located at City Hall, a block west of Main Street.

Diversified Construction of Georgia was awarded the bid, although their original estimate for the work was $831,000 in November.

Now the jail project will have less of an expansion goal and focus on $700,000 worth of improvements, with $12,000 going to Diversified Construction for overhead costs and profit.

The improvements to the police station will be paid for with funds seized through the Civil Asset Forfeiture Act, which allows police to seize a person’s property whenever they believe it could be connected to a crime.

The $720,000 in funds is just for Phase I of the jail renovation project, which will include buying a replacement generator. Westenberger said there will also be plumbing, architectural and security upgrades.

The jail renovations will start immediately and be completed by the beginning of August, Westenberger said.

Next, the city will start the bidding process for the exterior renovations, with changes to the parking lot to address security concerns and include fencing.

Street renaming approved

On Monday, the Kennesaw City Council had the second, and final, public hearing on renaming a portion of Kennesaw Due West Road to Summers Street.

The road running from Main Street to Cobb Parkway changes from Summers Street to Kennesaw Due West Road.

“(The renaming) was driven by public safety and service delivery,” said Darryl Simmons, the city’s planning and zoning administrator.

Simmons said. “It becomes a guessing game, and that can be tragic when seconds count.”

The discussion about the need for the name change began last summer after businesses along that strip of road requested that it be looked into.

Simmons sent certified letters to 23 property and business owners that front Summers Street.

“We did not want to overlook something or someone,” Simmons said.

Nine parcels of land will change from being listed as Kennesaw Due West Road to Summers Street, with three buildings requiring a number change with the address.

Many businesses owners of establishments including Kennesaw Emission Center, Appleseeds Learning Center, El Taco Azteca Bar and Grill, Carlile Florist & Gifts and Signatures Hair Studio sent back forms with signatures giving support for the change.

On Monday, the City Council voted 4-0, with Councilman Church absent, to approve the road renaming.

Simmons said road signs will be replaced in the next 30 days, and his department is working to update business licenses with the new addresses.

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