BIDDEFORD – To some, graffiti is art.

But to others, it’s seen as a persistent problem, and one official hopes to clean it up.

Biddeford City Council President Bob Mills wants to propose a new graffiti ordinance modeled after one recently passed in Portland that fines graffiti artists and requires property owners to clean up graffiti in a timely manner.

“Representing the downtown area, I just see new waves of graffiti taggers that go through and leave their mark on buildings, houses and churches,” Mills said. “There is some folks that can do artistic quality out of graffiti, but this isn’t.”

Graffiti has been a long-standing issue in Biddeford, especially with ideal tagging targets like back alleys, sparsely populated mill areas and vacant storefronts.

Linda Hardacker, the city’s community development coordinator, said it’s an ongoing and growing problem that needs to be addressed.

City crews currently clean up graffiti on public property, removing it as soon as possible, Biddeford Public Works Director Guy Casavant said. Removal can also be costly, though he couldn’t give exact figures because it varies with each situation. While they can go weeks without having a spot to clean, they can dedicate up to 30 hours in one week to remove fresh graffiti.

The city also awarded Community Development Block Grant funds last year to Go Greene, a youth group formed after the shooting deaths of Derek and Gage Greene in June 2009, for a graffiti-removal program, but Hardacker said the group has since disbanded and the funds were reallocated.

“It’s too bad because it would be a great program,” Hardacker said.

When the funds were awarded, Hardacker said she looked into how much it would cost to fully equip a graffiti removal program. She estimated it was about $24,000 for chemicals and equipment, like a power washing machine.

Portland approved a graffiti ordinance in June. Penalties for graffiti artist could be fines of $500 and at least 25 hours of community service. For the person whose property was tagged, it could mean being charged by the city for the cost of removal plus a 10 percent administrative fee if they don’t remove it themselves.

Trish McAllister, Portland’s neighborhood prosecutor, said holding property owners responsible has been controversial, but the ordinance will help battle the ongoing graffiti problem.

“We are definitely going to approach it more aggressively from a law enforcement standpoint,” McAllister said, and work with property owners.

She said that if a property owner is constantly cleaning or painting over graffiti, she can organize a team to keep watch and try to catch the graffiti artist in the act.

Biddeford also has resources to help property owners, such as a program run by LearningWorks. Donna Mrowka, director of community-based youth services, said property owners can file a request for “Graffiti Busters” to come clean graffiti. She said youths, often those who have defaced property before, spend 24 hours a week from April to October cleaning graffiti.

“It encourages youth who have committed crimes to give something back to the community,” Mrowka said.

Repeated tagging has been a headache for property owner David Flood in the past. Flood, whose building at 180 Main St. has been a target time and again, said he has tried four different products in efforts to remove graffiti.

“Not everything works all that well, even the same product works differently depending on the surface,” Flood said.

Grady Sexton, a member of the Downtown Development Commission and owner of Grady’s Radio and Satellite TV on Alfred Street, hasn’t had problems with graffiti on his building in the past, but said there are some popular spots like behind Flood’s building and the Lincoln Mill building.

“The last time (the Downtown Development Commission) really had an effort put in (to cleaning graffiti) was when Go Greene was with us,” Sexton said.

He said that it is an ongoing issue that should be addressed, but he is weary of holding property owners responsible to clean up graffiti.

“I see places hit time after time after time. What’s the best thing to do?” Sexton said. “It’s not the landlord that caused the problem.”

Mills plans to present his idea at the next Policy Committee meeting, set for 7 p.m. Sept. 12 in council chambers.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]