SOUTHINGTON — The Town Council approved a revised blight ordinance that includes strengthened enforcement provisions and a new method of reporting unsightly properties.
The measure, recommended by the town’s ordinance committee, passed with an 8-1 vote Monday night.
Under the previous ordinance, unresolved blight issues were eventually sent to criminal court if police visits and fines didn’t convince the property owner to fix the problems. Cases that have gone to criminal court are often dismissed by prosecutors who aren't familiar with housing cases.
The new blight ordinance sends unresolved blight problems to housing court. Town zoning officials said this is more effective and more efficient since it requires fewer visits by police.
Several residents who said they had dealt with blighted properties in their neighborhoods supported the measure Monday.
Under the new ordinance, residents must make complaints in writing. Signed complaints can become part of the legal case against a delinquent homeowner, according to Zoning Enforcement Officer Matt Reimondo.
Residents worried about retaliation for making blight complaints asked about anonymous written complaints on Monday. Town Attorney Carolyn Futtner said unsigned complaints would be investigated and pursued to the extent possible.
The council also reduced the fines for blight from $250 per day to $100 per day after William Dziedzic, a council member and Republican, pointed out a state statute limiting blight fines at the lower number.
Town officials said the goal of the ordinance was to address unsightly properties, not to collect fines. Homeowners working on blight issues are given time to fix them.
“If someone’s working to address it, I’m sure the town won’t immediately” prosecute, said council member John Barry, a Democrat.
Reimondo said most residents fix blight problems after they get a letter from the town. Of those who don’t, most of them are convinced to do so by a visit from a police officer. It’s only a very small percentage of homeowners who ignore all town and police efforts, and must be taken to court, according to Reimondo.
Michael Riccio, a Republican councilor, was the lone vote against the change. While he understood the frustration among neighbors of unsightly houses, he found the ordinance “a little far-reaching” and didn’t want the town “telling people how to live.”