December 10, 2013 9:47:08 AM
Columbus councilmen and department heads are on the same page when it comes to addressing dilapidated structures: Everyone wants them gone.
Not everyone agrees, however, on how many of the eyesores they expect to see demolished over the next three and a half years.
During a strategic planning retreat last week, a group of councilmen set a goal of demolishing 50 percent of dilapidated properties by 2017, while developing a plan to get them back on the city tax rolls. A cluster of department heads, who agreed with the need to address the structures, set a standard of 20 percent.
City building official Kenneth Wiegel said so far this year, 24 single family dwellings have been demolished, while 73 have been identified as in violation of city code. He said other properties are in the abatement process or the property owner has applied for an extension to make repairs and awaits approval from the council.
Wiegel said it would be difficult to quantify exactly how many more properties need addressing but says there are "several hundred," and estimates that less than 100 are in such condition that they should be taken down.
Code enforcer Tamaris Jones first receives word of a potential blight through the city's complaint department or through a routine field inspection. Then he sends a notice of violation to the property owner. If no response comes back, the matter is turned over to the city attorney, and a hearing is scheduled before the council.
"Depending on the condition of the structure, if the property owner shows up to discuss the condition, the council will work with the owner to give time to make necessary repairs," Wiegel said. "If the owner does not show up, in most cases immediate abatement is recommended by the code enforcement department."
First dibs on the property go to Columbus Fire & Rescue to review the property and see if firemen can use it for training. Wiegel said if that's possible, all city crews have to do is haul off the burned debris to the landfill once CF&R is done burning it. If it's not feasible, however, an excavator is the next option.
It costs anywhere between $2,500-7,500, depending on the size of a structure, to destroy it, Wiegel said. The city places a lien on the property until the owner repays the amount charged. In every case, asbestos testing is required and has to be removed if detected.
Ward 5 councilman Kabir Karriem said dilapidated properties are a fixture of the area he represents but feels Wiegel and Jones have addressed the citywide issue well and hopes to see that continue.
"What we're trying to do is guarantee that we can continue as we've been doing tearing down at least 50 percent of the dilapidation that is occurring here in the city," Karriem said. "A caveat to that is ... developing a plan to get those lots back on the tax rolls."
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
1. Shifting to local: Coffee shop rebrands after getting new owner COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
3. SOCSD bans former teacher from campuses STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY
4. Armed robbery case ends in mistrial COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY
5. Moore will run for Starkville mayor in 2017 STARKVILLE & OKTIBBEHA COUNTY