Massillon may get tougher on owners of vacant buildings, proposing larger fines

MASSILLON, Ohio - Many Northeast Ohio cities battle the problem of vacant buildings which can be eyesores, and in some case, dangerous.

In Massillon, city officials are considering putting "more teeth" into an existing ordinance by punishing non-residential owners for letting buildings waste away.

A proposal before city council would repeatedly double the registration fee for owners of vacant buildings.

The first year the fee would be $240. The second year the fee would total $480. The amount would top off at $3,840 by year five.

Failure to register a building would also result in a $1,000 fine.

Dave Maley, the city's economic development director, said debt collectors would go after the cash, which would then be used to restore the vacant structures.

"We want to give incentives to property owners to do something, and sometimes you have to hit their pocketbook," Maley said.

Maley estimated there are 15 vacant buildings in downtown Massillon.  Problems on some of the buildings include a roof collapsing, loose bricks, windows knocked out and a deteriorating staircase.

Phillip Elum, owner of Elum Music Company, supports the proposal to put more pressure on owners who sit on vacant properties.

"I just want them just to fix their buildings up. We're not asking them to spend millions of dollars here. We're talking about the curb appeal," Elum said. "The idea is to get their attention."

Mike Hayden has owned the Stone Block Building on Erie South for about a year. It has some boarded up windows and needs additional work, but Hayden said he's working to turn it into a bar and restaurant.

"Since I've gotten this building I have just constantly been updating it," Hayden said.

He also agrees with the idea of higher fees for building owners who let properties deteriorate.

"Hopefully, that will stop them and deter them from having dilapidated buildings."

Maley feels addressing the vacant building problem is especially important since downtown Massillon was recently placed on the National Historic Registry, making business owners eligible for tax credits.

"We want to develop downtown. We want to develop and have more people come downtown," he said.

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