NEW PORT RICHEY — The foreclosure crisis that has rocked Florida and the nation in recent years is taking its toll on New Port Richey in the form of blighted and abandoned properties.
After hearing from their police chief, City Council members set out to do something about it, voting 4-1 for an ordinance that would establish a registration program whereby homeowners would be required to pay a $150 fee to register their foreclosed property with the city.
Police Chief Jeffrey Harrington advocated the ordinance, saying he wanted to bring accountability to property owners, namely banks, which are allowing foreclosed properties to deteriorate.
Foreclosed homes in the city "often become dangerous eyesores with overgrown lawns, broken windows, and stagnant swimming pools," Harrington wrote in a memo to the City Council. "They attract crime and contribute to neighborhood blight."
Harrington said code enforcement officers have found roadblocks in getting foreclosed properties in line with the city's codes, as many are owned by out-of-state banks. A review by the Police Department found 85 bank-owned homes in the city, 151 heading to auction, and 560 in foreclosure proceedings.
And properties that are not monitored can deteriorate fast, according to new Mayor Bob Consalvo, who was sworn in Tuesday.
"It doesn't take long to have a blighted property next to a nice one," he said.
The ordinance would allow the city to monitor what properties are in foreclosure, giving code enforcement officers contact information for owners and property managers should their properties fall out of conforming with other measures outlined in the proposed ordinance.
Those include registered owners of foreclosed property keeping the lawn maintained, painting over graffiti, pool maintenance, keeping properties locked, and replacement or boarding of broken windows. Should a property owner not maintain a property, citations and liens could follow.
While the first reading of the ordinance passed, it's in for some tweaking before a second reading May 3.
Council members bristled at a measure that requires posting 18-by-24-inch signs on vacant or abandoned property that must be visible from 45 feet, holding a property manager's name and a 24-hour contact number.
"It does have the potential to make things look worse than it already is," Deputy Mayor Rob Marlowe said of the signs.
The council also questioned another element in the ordinance requiring registered owners to have a property manager within 20 miles of the city. Several council members found the measure to restrictive.
Council member Judy DeBella Thomas voted against the measure, saying it would likely cost the city more in employee time than the results might be worth.
"It seems like another layer of bureaucracy that we are going to have to track," she said.