Parkersburg City Council has taken an important step toward the reduction of the number of dilapidated eyesores dotting the city’s streets. An ordinance creating a $100-a-month fee and vacant-building registry for houses that have been vacant more than one year, and have not been offered for sale or improved, should be a powerful incentive to those who have neglected their properties.

But it will be important for city officials to heed the warnings of council members who are concerned the new rules may hurt citizens who dutifully maintain vacant structures. Every building is under a unique set of circumstances, and inspectors should be flexible in dealing with examples such as the one presented by Councilman John Kelly, of a family who faithfully mows the grass, takes out trash and turns on lights in a home that has been empty since a relative was moved into a nursing home.

According to Mayor Bob Newell, the structures that will attract attention and be assessed a fee are those, for example, with rodents coming from them, or with significant, visible damage. “We’re not after innocent people trying to do the right thing,” he said.

Provided inspectors and other city officials do, indeed, have the ability to use their discretion, rather than law-abiding property owners being forced to defend themselves in a cumbersome appeals process, the new rules are an excellent part of the effort to tackle the neglect and decay that has tarnished parts of Parkersburg.

Holding accountable the property owners responsible for these crumbling structures by inflicting a monetary punishment may be the best way to strike at them in a way that grabs their attention. With any luck, we will be seeing “for sale” signs, construction crews or demolition equipment all over Parkersburg as negligent owners begin to feel the pain.