July 29, 2014 10:10:31 AM
The Columbus code enforcement office has worked more than 400 cases this year.
Department director Tomarris Jones said that since January, city crews have demolished 11 houses. Five more demolitions are in progress and city workers have also cleaned and mowed a number of overgrown lots, he said.
How many more properties in the city that need work is difficult to quantify, Jones said, but he feels his department has made a significant dent in addressing blight this year.
"The only way to get that number is to go into each ward, look at each house and do a survey," Jones said.
Tackling the problem, Jones said, involves contacting owners of property who have not kept their properties up to city code and then working with the owners to find ways to bring the properties into compliance. Sometimes the problem is an overgrown lot. Or a dilapidated structure. Or a property maintenance violation.
Who performs the cleaning depends on the city's ability to reach the property owner and whether the owner wants more time to do the clean up. If the owner asks the city council for more time, the city typically grants a 45-day extension. If the owner does not make the request, the city performs the cleanup and charges the property for the costs. If the property is offered at a tax sale, cleanup cost are added to the value of the land.
West Point is also stepping up efforts to identify nuisance properties and fix them.
Code enforcement officer Jeremy Klutts began in January and has since held hearings on 10 properties. Three of them were houses that were torn down. The other seven were just light cleanups, he said. Several others were identified and the property owners contacted him saying they would make the necessary repairs, Klutts said.
"There are many more that we've started with and the property owners have come to comply," Klutts said. "We give them a couple of weeks after the hearing. They either show up at the hearing or call me and I'll work with them. If they tell me they're going to clean up in the next two or three weeks, we'll hold off on cleaning it up ourself."
Klutts estimated that there are 50 to 100 properties left for his department to evaluate that are likely public nuisances and require remediation, either by the city or the property owners.
"I haven't even hit the ice," he said. "We've got several more."
Klutts and Jones said the typical cost for demolishing a structure runs between $2,500-$7,500 depending on the size of the structure.
"We did a smaller house that was roughly about 1,500 square feet and it ran about $3,500 to tear it down," Klutts said.
In Columbus, first priority is given to Columbus Fire and Rescue if a structure public works was going to demolish could be used for training. If not, an excavator is used to tear down the house.
Klutts said that in West Point that process has not been used because, in many cases, the property in question is too close to neighboring ones.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
1. Ex-office manager arrested for embezzlement COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY