ROMNEY — Property owners are getting the message that vacant buildings need attention.
Even better, they need occupants.
Of course, a $500 bill will get most people’s attention.
Romney is now in year 2 of an effort to rid the town of vacant buildings, which it says constitute a fire hazard and a shelter for illegal activities. An ordinance adopted in early 2020 says vacant buildings detract from neighboring properties and require additional services to protect the public safety, health and welfare.
Under the ordinance, the town sent letters to about 100 property owners around July 1, 2020, notifying them that the properties were now on a town registry.
The notice had an immediate effect, Mayor Beverly Keadle said.
“Some properties were sold,” she said. “Some owners made an effort to show the properties were occupied.”
That included establishing utility service — electric, water and sewer.
The net result was that this July, the number of properties notified dropped to 35, but the new notices included a $500 registration fee as outlined by the 2020 ordinance.
The fee for those properties will rise to $1,000 next year, $2,000 in 2023, then $3,500 in 2024 and $5,000 each year after that.
The ordinance covers buildings that are “uninspected and unmonitored,” and makes no provision for ownership exceptions.
One letter went to the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind for the house it owns on Depot Street in front of Potomac Center. Keadle said she’s not sure that one is enforceable.
Two churches received letters for buildings they own.
Town Hall Office Manager Kerri Shreve said some people have paid the $500 fee, or indicated they will.
A few have made moves to show the building is occupied, including paying the town water and sewer fees that over a year’s time will cost more than the fee. The minimum monthly water and sewer bill with user fees totals nearly $900 annually.
One couple, Al and Kathy Puhalla, appeared at the August Town Council meeting to protest the ordinance.
But, Shreve noted, as of mid-August 21 of the 35 owners had not responded to the town. o