NAUGATUCK — Borough residents who don’t clean up will soon be forced to pay up.
The Board of Mayor and Burgesses this week unanimously approved a blight ordinance that allows the borough to fine residents up to $100 for each day their properties are in violation of the ordinance’s standards.
The ordinance is a twelve-page document developed by the citizen-led Blight and Beautification Committee to define, prohibit and abate blight in the Borough of Naugatuck.
The most referenced example of blight at the special meeting of the borough board overgrown grass, shrubs and weeds, although many other violations—such as collapsing or deteriorating structures, overhang extensions, infestation, abandoned vehicles and accumulation of garbage and debris—were also highlighted. The ordinance also calls for the appointment of a blight officer to enforce the violations.
The blight committee presented a slideshow highlighting the occurrences of blight around the community to the borough board. Some of the blighted areas shown were the National Guard property, the area across from Naugatuck High School, land near the a Route 8 off-ramp and the commuter parking lot. Blight was also displayed at or near borough businesses including Joe’s Antiques, Ferrari’s Appliance, and the unoccupied Dairy Market.
The ordinance was passed unanimously, but not before long deliberation and multiple motions by the board.
The motion was first made for the board to accept the ordinance as is, effective immediately. A new motion was put forth to adopt the blight ordinance as is, effective November 1, leaving time to review and make any necessary minor changes to the document.
Officials expressed some trepidation that the ordinance is not something the borough is accustomed to, but stressed their feelings that the new rules have the potential change the face of Naugatuck.
“This is really doing something different than the borough has been doing,” Mayor Bob Mezzo sad. “It’s change, and when change comes it’s very frightening and there’s a lot of apprehension. There’s a lot of ways to figure out why we shouldn’t do something differently. I’m under the impression nothing ever goes exactly as you plan, particularly when you say there’s a problem and we’re not addressing it and we need to do something different. We need to go down that difficult road where no one wants to go and say ‘It’s time to do something different here in Naugatuck.”
The ordinance will force borough residents who own blighted properties to act and improve their surroundings or incur fines.
“There’s so many people in this town that care about this town,” said B.J. Forlenzo, co-chair of the Blight and Beatification committee. “There are so many ‘townies’ here, people that grew up here and really love this town. I too appreciate what this town has to offer, but I think this will bring an awareness that you can’t just say you care about the town; it makes you go out and actually do something about it.”
Money was the chief issue those initially opposed to the ordinance highlighted. They worried that in hard economic times, the fines the blight ordinance can levy might make life harder on residents than it already is.
“People are suffering in this town,” said Eileen Bronko, former burgess and wife of former Mayor Mike Bronco, during public comment. “People are losing their homes more and more. So let’s fine the heck out of them and somehow we’ll have a beautiful Naugatuck.”
One of the residents whose house was displayed in the slideshow and could be subjected to the ordinance came forward and explained her property is not blighted because she doesn’t care, but because she can’t afford to fix the problems.
“I have made every effort and I am stuck because of financial times, so I really don’t know what the town expects me to do about that,” said Lois Ackerman, former burgess and tax collector. “People think citizens who can’t clean up their property are just a bunch of slobs who can’t be bothered, and that’s not the case. I’m speaking from experience.”
Burgess Mindy Fragoso said although people might be economically besieged, it shouldn’t mean they can’t keep their properties free of blight.
“Yes, times are difficult,” Fragoso said, “but you don’t have to be rich to be clean. You can be very poor, but you must be clean.”
Another concern raised was the expense borough would take on by appointing a blight officer to enforce the stipulations set forth in the ordinance.
“We have limited funds,” said Matthew Katra, a member of the finance board. “Adding another worker to the workforce is just not something the borough can afford right now.”
It is yet to be decided who will be appointed blight officer and whether the position will be part-time or full-time.
One burgess spoke out strongly against the ordinance and felt more time needed to be dedicated to perfecting the ordinance before it goes into effect.
“The one thing we don’t want to do it put this out there and then six months from now say, ‘What did we really mean when we said that?’” Second Deputy Mayor Mike Ciacciarella said. “I would recommend to the board that we don’t take any action on this tonight. This document needs to be gone over and tweaked some more, and it needs to be given a serious look at by the zoning commission.”
This conversation sparked Mezzo’s suggestion that the board vote on the current document as is, but wait to put the document into effect until November, leaving time for finishing touches to be made.
Committee members hope that when the ordinance goes into effect it will make a big different and address the problem of blight in the borough.
“The blight is everywhere and it needs to be fixed,” said Linda Ramos, co-chair of the Blight and Beatification committee. “No one will come to Naugatuck and want to open a business or live here. We need to restore the beauty of this town. Hopefully we’re going to see a future where we can have a blight-free town.”