The owners of vacant buildings in Duluth will begin paying an increasing fee each year that their building sits empty.

The Duluth City Council on Monday night unanimously approved a fee schedule that would begin at $500 for the first year and then increase by $500 each year a building sits vacant. The city could waive the increased fee if the owner enters into a restoration agreement to repair the building within six months and is current on insurance payments and property taxes, said Keith Hamre, the city's director of planning and construction services.

The fee applies to all buildings in Duluth and will go into effect 30 days from Tuesday. The proposal originally came before the council in June but was tabled while details were finalized.

Under the previous city policy, the vacant building registration fee was $500 per year, regardless of how long a building had been unoccupied.

The new fee schedule is meant to address threats to public safety that vacant buildings can pose. The city wants to inspect the buildings with safety in mind, Hamre said.

"For our emergency personnel, if they have to respond to something, they want to know that they've been in the building, they know what to expect when they go into that building. You don't want to have chemicals or flammable materials stored there that's going to cause a fire to go out of control or something that, if it catches on fire, causes some kind of gaseous reaction that firefighters aren't prepared for when they go into that building. It's a major safety issue," Hamre said.

David Montgomery, Duluth's chief administrative officer, told the council in June that the increased fee reflects the costs associated with having a vacant building and creates an incentive for owners to pay attention to vacant buildings.

"We've found that over the years, the longer a building sits vacant, the more it consumes in terms of police and fire calls. It's also more likely to become a blight on a neighborhood," Montgomery said in June.