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Published Apr. 8, 2014

Hernando County commissioners agreed last fall that the county needed to improve its neighborhoods by knocking down blighted structures. They just couldn't agree on how to pay for it.

Commissioners can avoid a repeat of that debate when they consider a proposed foreclosure registry ordinance later this month. Under the plan, a portion of the fees lenders pay to register foreclosed properties could be used to finance the abatement effort. It's a worthwhile proposal modeled after similar ordinances elsewhere in Florida. Commissioners should support it.

There have been more than 13,000 reasons to embrace it over the past six years. That's how many foreclosure lawsuits have been filed in circuit court in Hernando County since 2008, and each came with the potential for a vacant structure to turn into a community eyesore. The registry in Pasco County, which began in 2011, currently contains 13,526 properties.

Empty homes can become a nuisance or a public safety threat quickly. A neglected home with a swimming pool is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and a potential drowning hazard. Abandoned houses without boarded-up windows are invitations to thieves and squatters. Unkept yards can attract rodents, and the visual blight can lower property values.

The county recognizes this as one of the key reasons for its unsafe building abatement program, and last week a crew knocked down a vacant house in East Linden Estates that had been damaged by an explosion and fire two years ago.

The current county budget includes $150,000 for the abatement program that had accumulated more than two dozen targeted structures by last fall. Some escaped the proverbial wrecking ball because builders renewed long-expired construction permits to complete half-built houses. They would have had no motive to do so if the county hadn't gotten serious about containing neighborhood blight.

The proposed foreclosure registry shares the same goal. Under the program, a lender would pay a fee to register a foreclosed site with the county and then would have to secure and maintain the property. Under similar ordinances elsewhere, the identity of the property manager and 24-hour contact information must be posted on the house.

It's a relatively simple way to encourage accountability from lenders and to try to inoculate neighborhoods from potential problems. Meanwhile, the fees would help keep the demolition crews working to eliminate existing blight.

This is a creative tool to help the county's code enforcement and building departments, which have been hard hit by years of constrained budgets. Aiding those departments to cope with derelict residential properties is in Hernando County's best interest.