Southampton officials Tuesday created a special "blight mitigation" fund, and also significantly increased the fines for repeatedly violating the town's cleanup code.
The new fund is expected to raise $18,000 a year to pay for cleanup work, and property owners will eventually be required to reimburse the town. Fines for violating the town property maintenance code would cost up to $500 a day.
In addition, the town board voted to add a $100 blight mitigation surcharge for violations of the town's property maintenance code, and made additional violations within 18 months a misdemeanor, calling for a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 and up to 6 months in jail.
The town board voted 5-0 for all of those changes, as well as an additional provision allowing the town attorney to seek a separate civil penalty for continuing violations of the code, which could add $500 a day to fines after three days.
Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said cleanup issues exist in many areas of the town, and that the new regulations would give the town the tools to deal with the long-running problem. She said some parcels in need of cleanup were owned by banks or other investors, while other long-standing issues could be blamed on owners who repeatedly create litter problems.
Councilwoman Bridget Fleming said that two areas, Flanders and Hampton Bays, are suffering from blight caused by absentee landlords. She said the town's enforcement actions so far -- warnings and hearings, then assigning a town crew to do the cleanup and adding the costs to the property owner's tax bill -- were regarded by some property owners as simply the cost of doing business.
The blight mitigation money will come from the town justice court, and the board authorized taking up to 1 percent of the court revenue -- about $1.8 million a year, after paying required state fees -- to fund it.
Councilman James Malone noted that the town would collect a special $100 surcharge for first violations of the tougher code, but not for repeat offenders. "That's worse," he said.
The problem, the town attorney's office said, was that while surcharges can be imposed for code violations, repeated littering -- which calls for a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 and up to 6 months in jail -- is a misdemeanor and not subject to a surcharge. Those funds go directly to the court, and so the town can put only $10 to $50 of the fine into the blight mitigation fund.