It’s been nearly three years since flood waters swept through south Cobb County. The historic episode led many residents, as well as some businesses, to abandon damaged structures that have since become eyesores in neighborhoods.
About 700 homes were damaged in the flood and it’s been estimated that half of their occupants left Austell to live elsewhere. Through a buy-back program, the city has purchased and demolished roughly a couple dozen with federal and state aid, but the bureaucratic process has been slow.
One plan that will be discussed tonight involves approving an ordinance that would require owners of vacant and foreclosed properties to register those properties with the city, which once armed with such data, hopes to better enforce adequate maintenance and security measures.
“When the flood came, so many people had to move out that we can’t find a lot of those people,” said Councilwoman Virginia Reagan, who has been studying the issue. “When they foreclose them, they just move out and leave.”
Reagan, who represents Ward 4, said the registration program would be similar to the one in neighboring Powder Springs, which was also hit hard by the flood that dropped up to 20 inches of rain in the area.
At last count, there were 500 vacant and foreclosed properties in Powder Springs, said city Community Development Director Pat Conner.
Last week, the youth ministry of Powder Springs First United Methodist Church worked to clean up a few of the more serious vacant properties on Anderson Street, Valley Drive, Ponderosa Lane, Paddocks Court, Evelyn Drive and New Towne Drive.
Officials fear that such properties increase neighborhood blight and attract criminal activities.
“We wanted them to identify the agent or person who would be responsible for maintaining the property,” Conner said of Powder Springs’ registration program.
The state defines vacant property as real property intended for habitation that has not been lawfully inhabited for at least 60 days.
Along with DeKalb County, Gwinnet County and city of Atlanta, Powder Springs was among the first municipalities in the state to pass a vacant and foreclosed property ordinance over the past two years. In Powder Springs, anyone who owns a vacant property or files a foreclosure notice has been required to register.
Presently, the city does not charge a fee to register, but Conner is recommending that council members institute a $100 fee, as the city amends its ordinance to comply with Georgia House Bill 110, which standardized such vacant and foreclosed property registries across the state. It was signed last May into law by Gov. Nathan Deal and became effective July 1.
“We’ve had some difficulty getting some of the banks or lending institutions into court under our ordinance right now and we don’t charge a fee right now,” Conner told the council last Thursday. The fine for not registering can cost up to $1,000, according to city officials.
Over the past two years, more people have not registered than have registered, Conner acknowledged.
At 7 p.m. tonight in council chambers, Powder Springs Council members will hear the first reading of the ordinance amendments before a second reading and vote in August. A resolution for the proposed registration fee will also be voted on next month.
The Austell City Council will meet at 6 p.m. tonight at Austell City Hall.