NAUGATUCK — When the Board of Mayor and Burgesses adopted the town’s budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, it did not include funding for a blight officer position.
Now Mayor Robert Mezzo has appointed Mayoral Aide Ed Carter to temporarily fill that position.
Carter will work with Borough Attorney Ned Fitzpatrick to enforce the ordinance and file necessary paperwork, Mezzo said.
The blight officer position was created when the board passed a new blight ordinance last November. The blight ordinance prohibits properties from becoming unseemly, including overgrown grass, junk in yards, and dilapidated structures. The blight officer has authority to issue fines of $100 a day for properties not in compliance with the law.
“Overall we’re happy that Mayor Mezzo has appointed someone,” said BJ Forlenzo, co-chair of the Blight and Beautification Council.
Although the council wanted a separate, part-time blight enforcement officer under the jurisdiction of the Naugatuck Police Department, Forlenzo said she was pleased that Carter would temporarily take the position.
“I think with Ed, he knows the community well. He gets a lot of blight calls on a daily basis,” Forlenzo said.
Carter will be able to track what’s happening with blighted properties, she said.
“He’s got a lot of experience at this point…dealing with foreclosures and bank-owned properties,” Forlenzo said.
With the blight ordinance in his arsenal to take care of unseemly properties, banks will no longer be able to ignore overgrown and falling-apart homes in their possession, Forlenzo said.
Mezzo said he chose Cater because he one of the few employees that reports directly to the mayor. Since he is not a member of a collective bargaining unit, he doesn’t need to renegotiate a contract to approve extra duties. Carter will not receive any additional compensation for his new duties, which he will conduct in addition to his existing responsibilities.
In addition, Mezzo said he would appoint a three-member Blight Citation Hearing Board to review objections to various citations from property owners, as per the ordinance. Mezzo said he would announce his appointments at Tuesday night’s meeting of the Board of Mayor and Burgesses.
Carter will initially focus on vacant, abandoned and foreclosed residential properties and the most egregious occupied properties whose owners have refused to work with the Borough’s Zoning Enforcement Office, according to Mezzo.
Carter will issue liens on properties in violation of the blight ordinance. Liens must be paid, even if the property changes ownership, Mezzo said.
Meanwhile, Mezzo said he would develop a plan to address landscaping needs at abandoned and foreclosed properties.
The ordinance allows the borough to recoup dollars from property owners who are in violation, but Mezzo said he had to investigate whether the town has the equipment to address residential landscaping or whether the town would have to contract such work out. Most of the borough’s mowers are large pieces of machinery designed for large fields, Mezzo said.
Although Mezzo said he still supports funding a separate blight officer, the town cannot wait to address blighted properties.
“This is not the most perfect, ideal situation, but the alternative is simply to wait and complain that we didn’t get funding for it. I would rather act…to address the most egregious situations and abandoned properties,” Mezzo said.
Given Carter’s limited time, there’s going to be blighted properties that the borough will not have the capacity to address, Mezzo said.
“It’s difficult to address all the needs we have given the limited resources, but we need to be creative and make sure we’re doing everything we can to make sure this is the best community we can be,” Mezzo said.
He said the temporary position will allow the town to start addressing the most egregious situations, learn from inevitable mistakes, and strengthen the process for the future.
“We’re not here to throw up our hands and say someone didn’t fund it,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo said the ordinance will be selectively enforced from time to time on a case-by-case basis.
“The common theme throughout the blight and beautification process has been constructive rather than punitive, and will remain so with regard to the enforcement of the ordinance. There are instances, however, when properties owners who have the means to address blight absolutely refuse to respond to concerns raised by the borough and/or work toward solutions. It is for these instances that the expedited process authorized by the blight ordinance will be used,” Mezzo wrote on his blog.
To report an instance of blight, residents can contact Carter at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (203) 720-7208. Residents can also send their concerns to Naugatuck Town Hall, Attn: Blight Officer, 229 Church Street, Fourth Floor, Naugatuck, CT 06770.
Residents who wish to register a complaint should include their name, address, and contact information on their request, Mezzo said. Although he doesn’t intend to publish names, Mezzo said little consideration would be given to anonymous complaints.
Carter could not be reached for comment as of this post.