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Former dealership's taxes set to triple

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY -- While the former Heritage House Hotel has become the poster child for the city's war on blight, a property that sits on the curb of another busy Albany artery is crumbling, prompting Albany City Commissioners and Code Enforcement officials to take a drastic step: tripling the property's taxes.

The former home of the Pritchett Ford dealership is at the center of what some in the city are calling a "high- growth zone," an area primed for development and job creation.

But most of the structure currently sits dormant, with broken windows and vegetation creeping along its facade.

Once believed to be a meeting ground for street gangs, the property is now the target of the city's Code Enforcement unit, which under the direction of the Commission and, specifically, Commissioner Tommie Postell, has taken steps to initiate action on the structure.

Using a rare tool in their arsenal, city officials have elected to impose the "blight tax" on the property owner, Thomas H. Pritchett and Agunac Inc., which will triple the city's portion of the property tax bill on the property.

Currently at 9.157 mils, that means when the property tax bills are delivered in the fall, Pritchett will have to pay an additional 18.3 mils or so for letting the property go, tax officials say.

"It's a tool, we hope, that will serve as an incentive to get the property owner to bring the property up to the proper codes and fix what needs to be fixed," Code Enforcement Director Michael Tilson said.

Once the changes are made, Pritchett can petition the court to remove the blight tax and, under Georgia law, he would be allowed to pay half of whatever the millage rate was at the time that he was assessed the tax -- or roughly 4.6 mils -- for three years as a "pat on the back" for fixing the problems, Tax Director Denver Hooten said.

With a brand new Zaxby's restaurant sitting across the street and surrounded by other businesses, Postell told commissioners during Tuesday's budget meeting that the building was an eyesore that has driven property values down in the area.

"It's dilapidated and worn out and something needs to be done," Postell said. "It's not fair to the other businesses around it, and its right there on Slappey for everyone to see."

But assessing the tax may not end up being the solution some believe it could be.

According to collections officials in the tax office, Agunac has yet to pay the $7,620.11 it owes in 2009 taxes on the property.

Agunac ended up with the property after a series of sales between the company and Slappey Land Partnership LLC that began in 2002.

According to tax records, Pritchett Ford obtained the property in 1963. In March 2001, Slappey Land Partnership and its manager, Thomas E. Pritchett, sold the property to Albany Slappey Point LLC, whose manager was Larry K. Morey, for $483,000.

In May 2002, Slappey Land Partnership obtained the property from Albany Slappey Point through foreclosure.

Slappey Land Partnership and Agunac then began a series of buying and selling the property between the two entities, beginning in September 2002 when Thomas E. Slappey of Slappey Land sold the property to Thomas H. Pritchett of Agunac for $1.3 million.

Augunac then sold the property back to Slappey Land Partnership in July 2003 for the same $1.3 million.

The last sale of the property occurred in June 2004 when Slappey Land Partnership sold the property back to Agunac for $510,000.

Tilson said the tax measure is an effort to give the owner an opportunity to fix the property before further action needs to be taken, but said that demolition is not currently part of the discussion.

"Demolition of that property is not being sought at this point," Tilson said. "We chose to exercise the blighted property tax ordinance as the best tool in this case and will see how that goes."

Code Enforcement, along with the city's Public Works department and the city attorney's office, has been pushing blighted properties through the nuisance abatement ordinance and into court and demolishing such residential properties at a hectic pace since the city allocated an additional $500,000 of funding toward the effort last year.

Those funds are expected to be expended by mid-summer, Tilson told the Commission Tuesday.