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Quincy may revamp fines for blighted properties

Costly and time-consuming efforts to clean up blighted properties in Quincy may prompt officials to consider toughening the system of fines on such properties.

According to Ward 1 City Councilor Margaret Laforest, the problem is prevalent throughout her ward, with some properties in severe disrepair and others filled with junk.

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“It has been a real priority of mine since I took office,” Laforest said. “I actually keep a running list of where the problems are, what we’re doing, and Ward 1 has a lot of properties that slowly, but surely, we’ve been working on.”

The most recent was a dilapidated camper that had been parked for decades in the backyard of a Sea Street home. The camper had been rusting and rotting for 20 years, Laforest said, with tall grass around the property.

The city issued three tickets for $100 each to remove the camper, before the owners finally complied late last month. Yet the camper was in such disrepair, it fell apart while being towed, and had to be placed in a nearby church parking lot until a flatbed could retrieve it.

Even then, there were problems, as throughout Halloween, Quincy police had to kick people out of the open structure and then monitor it to ensure no one went inside.

Despite the city’s efforts and the cost of police detail, the fines still stand at $300 — which the residents are appealing, Laforest said.

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Hopes for a settlement in the courts aren’t high, Laforest said, as the courts often rule in favor of compliance rather than fines.

The Sea Street property is among several in the city that are problematic. Elsewhere, a rotting roof on a home addition is situated next to a wood-burning stove. Other properties have abandoned cars or abandoned boats.

Consequently, Laforest said, she has begun looking into the possibility of changing the system for fines. Rather than the one inspection officer in the city issuing separate fines, he perhaps could issue one fine that would build up daily.

“Maybe that’s something we need to be talking about, [change how] we’ve been very flexible and understanding. Each incident has a story, but at some time we need to collect the funds because it’s impacting staff time,” Laforest said.

Laforest said she is also having conversations about an ordinance change similar to one recently passed for the Department of Public Works, where fines become liens on property taxes.

“A lot of them we’ve seen some resolution on, but it’s taken a lot of effort,” Laforest said. “It’s impacting property values, impacting quality of life, and we want people to be taking care of their properties.”

The Department of Inspections would still have discretion over who should pay the fines, Laforest said.

The City Council is likely to take up the issue within the next few weeks. In the meantime, the city is working on a couple dozen properties that are troublesome.

“It’s just not what we’re looking for in our neighborhoods,’’ said Laforest. “They are too high value to be brought down by this blight.”

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.

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