South River council considers ordinance changes for vacant properties

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SOUTH RIVER–Borough Attorney Andrea Wyatt vocalized the need for revisions toward the municipality’s property maintenance and vacant properties ordinance.

“The mayor and I met with all of our professionals and one of the things we talked to our borough attorney about was the vacant properties ordinance. Not the ordinance itself and what it’s trying to accomplish, but she was very concerned about the fees that were being charged and worried whether they could withstand a court test,” Council President Raymond Eppinger said.

Wyatt said during the council meeting on Jan. 13 that she was tasked to try to narrow the scope of the definition of vacant property, so it doesn’t necessarily apply to properties that are vacant but being maintained.

“I believe the purpose of the ordinance … was to really target the property owners that are not maintaining their properties. So what we were proposing to do was potentially limit the definition to really get those properties in which they’re not maintaining under the property maintenance code,” Wyatt said. “So the definition of vacant property [is] limited, again this was just a draft, and any suggestions are welcome.”

On Sept. 11, 2017, the borough council adopted an ordinance amending the borough code regarding property maintenance and vacant properties, as well as establishing a database/list for vacant properties.

Vacant property owners are required to file a registration statement for each vacant property with the code enforcement officer. The registration is valid for one year and must be renewed annually as long as the building or lot continues to be vacant. Registration or renewal fees may apply, according to the ordinance.

The first 12 months of the ordinance allow for those with vacant properties to register for no fee. The initial registration fee after the first 12 months is $500 with a yearly fee of $1,000, according to the ordinance.

Regarding the fees associated with vacant properties, Wyatt said the fees need to be limited to what is reasonable, what is reasonable to maintain the list, and to do all of the actions in this list.

“The list should not be concerned a revenue raiser. So what we need to do is we need to find out what the fee would be [in terms of] what it costs the borough to maintain the list and do the inspections and that is what the fee should really be,” Wyatt said.

Mayor John Krenzel said the governing body will look over the ordinance so it can be discussed at the council’s next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 27.

“As [Wyatt] said [the revised ordinance] cannot be a moneymaker per say, it has to break even or close thereof. So if it costs us $100 to do an inspection we can’t charge $1,000 but if it costs $85, we can charge $100 because that’s in the realm of reasonable,” Eppinger said.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.