Borough blight center of budget debate

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Co-chairs of the Blight Committee Linda Ramos and Elizabeth Forlenzo have raised concerns over how Naugatuck is fighting blight like this dilapidated property on School Street. Funds for a part-time blight officer position were cut from the borough budget.
Co-chairs of the Blight Committee Linda Ramos and Elizabeth Forlenzo have raised concerns over how Naugatuck is fighting blight like this dilapidated property on School Street. Funds for a part-time blight officer position were cut from the borough budget.

NAUGATUCK — The new blight bylaw that went into effect in November hasn’t been enforced, according to Linda Ramos and Elizabeth Forlenzo, co-chairs of the Blight Committee that wrote the ordinance.

Ramos said nothing has changed since the ordinance went into effect without a blight officer to handle blight cases and issue fines.

Ramos and Forlenzo, recently took photos of the same blighted areas they photographed when they were putting the ordinance together a year ago.

Of all the areas they looked at, only one building, at 1198 New Haven Road, was taken down because the roof collapsed from the snow, Ramos said.

The two presented those photos to the Joint Boards of Mayor and Burgess and Finance May 23 during a public hearing on the borough budget.

A part-time, $20,000 blight officer position was originally part of the proposed spending plan, but the joint boards took it out in an effort to reduce costs.

The blight ordinance prohibits unseemly properties such as overgrown grass, junk in yards and dilapidated structures. The blight officer would have authority to issue fines of $100 a day for properties not in compliance with the law.

Ramos said the problem isn’t just with residential properties, but with businesses and some town-owned land as well.

Ramos said she would not want to live next to a property where several unregistered vehicles were rotting away.

Other examples of blight in town include buildings with boarded up windows, soda machines rusting in a residential driveway, and property with wood piled haphazardly everywhere, Ramos said.

Board members who opposed adding the new blight officer position felt the job could be done by the zoning enforcement officer (ZEO).

During a recent budget meeting, Burgess Ron San Angelo said the ZEO was trained to take people to court over these issues.

“I don’t know why it’s failed,” he said.

Burgess Mike Ciaciarella said the ordinance needed time for bugs to be worked out before the board discusses funding the position next year.

Ramos said the ZEO handles zoning issues, not blight, which might not come under the ZEO’s jurisdiction.

“Yes, he handles probably some of the calls for trash or furniture. That’s insignificant to true blight that’s going on,” Ramos said.

During a recent budget meeting, Burgess Tamath Rossi agreed. She said the ZEO handles a narrow set of regulations

“The blight ordinance is much more encompassing,” she said.

With the town anticipating more foreclosures, Rossi said the situation is likely to get worse.

“The current process we have in place doesn’t work. Period,” Rossi said. “It’s really very short-sighted not to pursue this.”

Some board members raised concerns that even at $20,000 the pay wouldn’t be enough to attract competent talent.

Rossi said she’s already heard from several retired police officers interested in the position.

Ramos said it may not be necessary to fund a new position if another person already working for the town could take on the new duties.

“When you have a person doing a specific job, you get the job done,” Ramos said.

Board members opposed to funding the position said they support the ordinance.

Board of Finance member Don Carton said the town should try to enforce the ordinance without the position for a year to see if it could work.

“I don’t think, at this point, we need to spend anything,” Burgess Catherine Earnsky said.

Diane Scinto said she was on the fence with the issue. A few years ago, Scinto said she had trouble selling her house because of a blighted property nearby. After seeing the pictures Ramos took, Scinto said it was obvious that blight was a real problem in Naugatuck. If the position was funded, Scinto said she wanted proof that it was effective.

“I want to see proof in the pudding. Otherwise, it’s not being funded right now,” Scinto said.

Mayor Robert Mezzo has been a strong supporter of the blight ordinance, including the need for a blight officer. He said the ordinance gives the town a legal recourse to force institutions that own foreclosed properties to clean them up.

Ramos said that blight deters new businesses from coming to town and adding to the tax base.

“Without business, we’re just going to be paying high taxes forever,” Ramos said.

She said the Naugatuck Valley has a bad reputation.

“We really need to move forward,” Ramos said.