Property cleanups helped by grant, progress rapidly

Published 7:28 pm Tuesday, January 23, 2007

City Officials are still in the process of cleaning up property that had been damaged before the storm and finished off by it.

Progress is moving along swiftly now since the Mississippi Development Authority made available the Building Inspectors Code Enforcement grant to the city. After receiving the grant, the city was able to hire two new employees in code enforcement.

“Cleanup is coming along at a rapid pace. (The city is) cleaning up two to three houses per week and having public hearings every two weeks,” City Manager Ed Pinero said. “There are two reasons. We do have a grant to fund it, but it has been a continuous effort to cleanup since Katrina.”

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Katrina opened a lot of doors for the city’s cleanup effort, said Diane Miller City Operations Manager. The Mississippi Development Authority offered a grant to aid in hiring additional personnel for 12 months in the code enforcement department headed up by Shane Whitfield, she said.

Depending on progress the grant, can be renewed yearly, Miller said. “Because of the grant we were able to hire additional people building inspectors, Alvin Carter and Donald Kellar Jr.,” Miller said.

Before Katrina usually there would be two to three properties on the docket for declaration as public nuisances. Now there are six times as many, Miller said. “It is because we have a staff to enforce the code,” Miller said.

The grant can be used only to hire building inspectors, said Barbara McGrew, grants administrator

Between 56 and 70 properties have been torn down and or cleaned up, said Carter, one of the new building inspectors.

There are no specific areas of the city targeted, Pinero said.

“We are focusing on the entire city,” Pinero said. “There are 125 properties going through this process on our list right now.”

Most properties are reported to the city and the building inspectors take a look at the location, then it is then put on the agenda where council members set the date to have the hearing. The inspector sends the owner a certified letter requesting the owner’s appearance at the hearing, which is usually set three to four weeks later. There it is decided if the property will be declared a public nuisance.

“We want to give the owners the first opportunity to take corrective action. The truth is, most people do,” Pinero said.

“I don’t want to force anyone to tear down their dilapidated house but, if it comes down to it I will,” Carter said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency requested the city to adopt the 2003 International Property Maintenance Code, Carter said. Currently, there is no way to obtain the code information to ensure that a citizen is in compliance until residents receive a certified letter, he said.

“After they receive a certified letter with the code number on it, they can come by and see the information that explains the code in black and white,” Carter said.

At some point in the future, the city hopes to make the information available through its web site, Pinero said.

“Hopefully they will get the information on the Internet (for public review before a violation is found),” Carter said.

Carter recommends community members take note of their neighborhoods and lend a helping hand. People should start being a community again, helping each other out Carter said.

“If someone called me and asked me to help cleanup their property. I would do it. I would have all four of my kids there to help,” Carter said. “The storm is over it is time to clean up.”