Article Comment 

City leaders plan for the future


Kristin Mamrack



"There''s always room for improvement, but it''s going to take all of us working together as a team," Columbus Mayor Robert Smith told members of the City Council and the city''s department heads Wednesday, opening an all-day council retreat at Plymouth Bluff Recreation Center. 


During the retreat, the city''s department heads presented the goals and objectives for their department for the next three to five years. 


And the councilmen discussed various issues, including a need to more aggressively work to attract retail to the city, proposed ordinances and developing a comprehensive plan for the city. 


Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin noted the upcoming Census Bureau report is "going to be very vital to the city" in its efforts to attract more retail development. 


But Smith said officials constantly are told the city''s population must be 30,000 or higher to "come up on the radar screen" of retail developers. 


Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem noted Columbus-Lowndes Development Link CEO Joe Higgins admitted to him the Link has "not been aggressively courting retail, like they should have." 


And the councilmen agreed the priorities must change. 


"We need to ask them to bring it back on the radar and start spending some money there," said Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box. 


"That needs to be at the top of the list," added Karriem. 


"If we''ve got retail here, people will want to come here to live," said Gavin. 




Rental ordinance 


Except for Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens, who was not present at the retreat, the council also discussed a proposed ordinance governing all rental properties in the city. 


As proposed, the ordinance, which is based on Tupelo''s rental ordinance, stipulates a license is required to maintain or operate a rental housing unit and the license fee will be $10 for owners of one to three rental units, $30 for owners of four to 10 rental units and $100 for owners of 11 or more rental units. 


Additionally, an inspection of the rental property, by the Columbus Building Department, is required before any license is issued and an inspection may be performed before a license renewal is issued. 


Among other things, the ordinance stipulates rental housing must have sanitary facilities, including a lavatory basin and a bathtub or shower and hot water service. 


Rental housing also must have a kitchen with a kitchen sink, an oven, range or stove and a refrigerator or space for a tenant providing a refrigerator. 


Every rental housing unit also shall have electrical service; stairways and halls should have at least one light fixture controlled by a wall switch, and exterior entrances and areas of multifamily rental housing should be lit, as should parking areas and mailbox areas in buildings serving four or more rental units. 


All rental housing also should have heating, under the tenant''s control, and unvented combustion heaters or the use of cooking appliances as heaters is prohibited. 


The ordinance also stipulates space and occupancy requirements, required safety and security measures, landscaping restrictions and other things. 




Costly renovations? 


Despite City Attorney Jeff Turnage''s assurances the ordinance is "basic," Box expressed concerns the ordinance would lead to expensive renovations landlords aren''t willing to undertake. 


"Whether we want to admit it or not, we have slum lords in Columbus," said Karriem, suggesting a public forum be held on the matter. "This ordinance gives the city an opportunity to see (problems) they normally wouldn''t see." 


"We have to be careful before we adopt these ordinances," said Smith, who owns several rental properties. "If these (property owners) just say they''re going to push (their property) down (instead of ensuring it meets the requirements), that''s off the tax rolls." 


"If they''re going to have to go in there and upgrade these houses, they''re just not going to do it," Box said of some of the city''s property owners. 


"Even if we come to an agreement, the manpower (to enforce the ordinance) is going to be a problem," Smith said, suggesting the council put the matter "on hold." 


"This rental ordinance is really basic," said Karriem. "I think we owe it to the citizens to make sure everything is up to standard. Let''s not use money as a stopping point, because we go and find money for everything else we want to do." 


The council and Smith agreed to hold a public forum "within the next month" on the issue. 




Comprehensive planning 


The council also agreed to hold a forum on whether the city should engage the services of a firm to develop a comprehensive plan. 


"I think we need that road map, but I don''t want to be accused of doing another plan that''s going to sit on the shelf," said Karriem, referring to previous plans proposed for the city, which were never implemented. 


"If we''re going to put this thing together, let''s implement it," said Box. 


"The public is going to expect us to do something," said Gavin. 


Karriem suggested holding a public forum. 





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Reader Comments

Article Comment curious commented at 1/21/2010 6:37:00 PM:

everytime we have these gettogethers we "make plans" and "set goals" but have we reached the goals we set the last time we had this gettogether? it's all just sounds bites guys. "we are meeting to make plans for the future and set goals for the city". heard it before and will hear it again, the problem with all that is that fact that that is all anyone ever does. there comes a time when you have to ACHIEVE!!!


Article Comment Thom Geiger commented at 1/22/2010 1:31:00 PM:

Curious, I think a big reason that more is PLANNED than is ever DELIVERED by our local government officials is that they cut the end users, as we say in my line of work, they cut the taxpayers out of the planning process almost completely.
Now I and probably most others know that the usual rubber stamp answer from those same officials to that complaint is that anyone can call them or write to them. I've had many tell me they're willing to meet me somewhere to talk about my concerns about this or that, but these planning sessions, budget sessions, inter-local meetings, so-called working sessions, where are the people able to be a part of it all? All we taxpayers get is a canned, condensed, edited and highly spun version of whatever went on from the TV station and the newspaper, when we get that (if at all).
I can remember, believe it or not, when meetings like the ones that are becoming more and more popular with these current office holders, would never have happened because the people wouldn't have sat still for it. Nowadays, we don't get the respect from the winners of the last election that taxpayers of old got. Now we have to suck it up and take whatever it is they want to do with us, our money, our property and the city/county as a whole until we get the chance to elect the next batch.
It would be nice to go back to something resembling a system of local government where the taxpayers had more input into what was done to them and under their authority than what we have now. What do you think? Do you think we'll ever see those days again?


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