5th Ward candidates differ on vacant building tax


By Patrick Keck - pkeck@aimmediamidwest.com



5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell said high rates of vacancies have caused property values for many buildings, such as the Fifth Third Bank on Chillicothe Street, to dwindle. Photos by Patrick Keck.

5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell said high rates of vacancies have caused property values for many buildings, such as the Fifth Third Bank on Chillicothe Street, to dwindle. Photos by Patrick Keck.


5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell said high rates of vacancies have caused property values for many buildings, such as the Fifth Third Bank on Chillicothe Street, to dwindle. Photos by Patrick Keck.


PORTSMOUTH — Blighted and vacant buildings are an issue that at least two political candidates in Portsmouth agree requires work from the city, yet solutions to this problem seem to deviate.

Those two — current 5th Ward councilperson Edwin Martell and council hopeful Joey Sandlin — have varying takes when it comes to the recently reintroduced vacant building tax.

Positioning himself as pro-business, Sandlin said this route does not build on this vision. Rather, this tax hurts property owners who want to use their space for good.

“I truly believe, along with councilperson Martell and the other council members that the City of Portsmouth has a problem with the vacant and blighted buildings,” he said, selling real estate in Portsmouth since 2018. “I think where I probably disagree with the proposed legislation is the way in which we approach the problem.”

Sandlin said vacant homes and storefronts are the result of a bigger problem facing the city: the economy. Much like “Field of Dreams,” if a stronger local economy is built, the end of vacancies would come.

“The taxing or punishing of business owners, I believe will end up in the turnover of buildings to the city,” he said, comparing it to the ongoing situation with the Martings building. “The city doesn’t have the budget for that, I believe.”

With an improving financial state in the city, Sandlin does support its economic development plans along the riverfront. Plans like these should be in the forefront, he feels as Portsmouth strives to earn its title as the comeback city.

“We have to reinvent ourselves,” he said, promoting that the city and local businesses continue seeking out grant money. “We, as a city council especially, have to have the image that we are open for business. Taxing is not how you draw investors.”

Even in the early stages of these discussions, Martell senses that some in the community like Sandlin do not back his proposal. In his opinion, however, it is the best way to move the city forward while tackling problems facing the city, listing code enforcement and litter programs as the primary beneficiaries.

“There are some people that have been apprehensive to the idea because I think they misunderstood what this is all about,” he said, unoccupied buildings of at least 60 days being the primary focus. “My purpose behind this isn’t to penalize, but to try to entice and encourage building owners to look beyond their building and see the bigger picture.”

Included in this larger view, Martell said the local real estate market has felt the sting of these vacancies due to dwindling property values. The Fifth Third Bank on Chillicothe Street serves as an example of this where its price has decreased “dramatically,” over the past few years.

According to the Scioto County auditor website, the four-story, 65-year-old building had a total value of $2.8 million in 2004 before dropping to $1.3 million in 2006. Its value has increased slightly since then, measured to be $1.43 million in value as of Monday.

“This has been a problem here for a long time, blight buildings and empty buildings,” said Martell. “They have been a real eyesore, and not just an eyesore. They’ve hurt this city by sitting for a very, very long time.”

Details of the tax are still being developed, the city needing to determine penalties and just how much to charge these owners. The form of the tax- a flat fee or fee for by square footage- is also an open question although Martell believes a flat fee differing for residential and commercial buildings is the best route to take.

Exemptions have been formed, Martell saying those who have submitted floor plans with the state, actively renovating a building, facing financial hardships, and listed buildings as for sale to not be considered parties with the tax.

Just as Sandlin and Martell as the write-in candidate, the issue could find its way on the ballot. Council is already weighing whether voters should choose to adopt a Wholesale Electricity Purchase/Renewable Energy Program in the Nov. 2 general election.

“It’s putting a lot of confidence in our city to essentially do what we need to get done,” said Martell, saying that most of whom he has spoken with back his proposal. “If it does get voted down, then what? Do we continue to sit here and look at these boarded-up windows?”

5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell said high rates of vacancies have caused property values for many buildings, such as the Fifth Third Bank on Chillicothe Street, to dwindle. Photos by Patrick Keck.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2021/03/web1_DSC_1626.jpg5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell said high rates of vacancies have caused property values for many buildings, such as the Fifth Third Bank on Chillicothe Street, to dwindle. Photos by Patrick Keck.

5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell said high rates of vacancies have caused property values for many buildings, such as the Fifth Third Bank on Chillicothe Street, to dwindle. Photos by Patrick Keck.
https://www.portsmouth-dailytimes.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2021/03/web1_DSC_1627.jpg5th Ward Councilman Edwin Martell said high rates of vacancies have caused property values for many buildings, such as the Fifth Third Bank on Chillicothe Street, to dwindle. Photos by Patrick Keck.

By Patrick Keck

pkeck@aimmediamidwest.com

Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at pkeck@aimmediamidwest.com, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.

© 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.

Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at pkeck@aimmediamidwest.com, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.

© 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.