Old Augusta buildings hotbeds for crime

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August 21, 2006

Old dilapidated buildings are a common sight in parts of downtown Augusta, but they're more than just an eyesore. The sheriff's office says abandoned homes and businesses are a perfect place for drug deals.

Unfortunately, there's not much they can do to stop it.

Boarding up doors and windows is supposed to be the property owner's responsibility. But in many cases, the owners are nowhere to be found...leaving buildings wide open. And that can be dangerous for the community.

A building that has been abandoned so long the weeds and vines are starting to take over is right across the street from homes. Elora Herrington says the neighborhood has changed a lot over the last 50 years.

"It was a very busy area at the time and now...not too good, sure enough," she says.

Officers say the busted windows and doors invite drug trafficking--and all the violent crimes that go along with it.

"Dealers use it to distribute drugs or to use drugs," says Col. Gary Powell of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office.

Col. Powell says driving them out is a never-ending job. Once dealers leave one place, they usually make themselves right at home in another.

And just looking for them can be dangerous.

"You could be searching and hit one of the needles or get into an actual scuffle with one of the guys."

Holding property owners accountable is also a challenge. It's against zoning laws to let a home or business decline, but Mayor Deke Copenhaver says many owners are hard to track down.

"One of the most difficult things is absentee property owners," he says. "Many have moved, changed phone numbers, and don't necessarily have the city's best interest in mind. They've done business here and left."

That means people like Elora have to live near some unappealing scenes.

"It's very ugly...as you look around you can really see it."

Ugly...dangerous...two problems with no clear solution.

News 12 tried to contact the owners to ask them why their properties ended up in this condition, but we were unable to reach them. Officers say that for now, increasing patrols is the best way to keep the area safe.

Officers say they find drugs and other crimes happening in abandoned houses just about every week.

Mayor Deke Copenhaver says one solution is bringing more business to the area.

One way to attract new companies is temporarily freezing property taxes. Tax allocation districts would keep rates the same, even if values in the area go up.

The system is already in place in Atlanta, and Mayor Copenhaver says it could help fill many of the vacancies downtown.

You will get to decide if the tax allocation districts would be good for the city. The plan will be on the ballot on November.