Neighbors of blighted properties ask for supervisors’ help

Published 1:15 am Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Even though Pearl River County’s Board of Supervisors have worked diligently this past year to put into place policies and incentives to clean up the county, it has been a slow, laborious process, leaving some residents feeling frustrated at what appears to be a lack of progress.

It was that frustration that led a couple from the McNeill area to appear before the board of Supervisors during Monday’s meeting asking what, if anything, could be done about the mess in their neighborhood that they had been asking for help with for over a year.

“Mr. Holliday, I spoke with you last year about the problem but there has been no follow up,” said Naomi Thompson of Zion Church Lane in Carriere, of several properties in her neighborhood littered with bottles, dirty diapers, discarded tires, plastic, broken glass, and insulation. “What is being done about these blighted properties?”

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Thompson said that now there was a FEMA trailer parked on one of the lots, while another house in the neighborhood had been disconnected from its septic tank. “The feces are flowing right into the ditch,” Thompson said.

Hudson Holliday, supervisor for District 3, apologized to the Thompsons, explaining that the board was working diligently to clean up the county, but that was a process mired in paperwork, legal issues, and time.

Holliday sai that the county had already demolished a house on Terry Lane in Ozona that was in disrepair, as well as had approval for the demolition of several others, but that they could only move so fast. As for their neighborhood, he said that he had been working to get it cleaned up, noting that he had managed to be granted oral permission from one property owner on Zion Church Lane to have the dilapidated trailer removed.

“I am giving you a public apology,“ said Holliday. “I can’t explain why the government takes so long. There’s no excuse. We just have to make sure what we do is legal. The ordinances are in place, but it is all about lawsuits.”

Thompson pressed on, telling to the board members that nothing she had tried to do the past year had helped, from calling the fire department, to appealing to the supervisors, to even calling the health department. “The guy is burning dirty diapers, tires and plastic,” Thompson said. “That is what made me sick last year.”

Sandy Kane Smith of District 5 told Thompson she should call the fire marshal if the neighbor began burning anything she believed was dangerous. “If you think it is toxic, call our fire marshal,” said Smith.

When she said she had without result, Emergency Director Danny Manley spoke up and said, “If you call him and get no results, call me.” He then promptly gave the Thompsons his phone number.

Thompson’s husband , Watson, spoke up next, saying that if the trailer was going to be removed, that was good, but the bigger issue was the amount of garbage strewn about. “What about the garbage?,” he asked. “Seems like the people who own it and pay taxes on it, we should be able to hold them responsible.”

One of the properties, 116 Zion Church Lane, is shown on the tax rolls as being owned by Leavern Guy of Picayune. Guy is a Picayune City Council member. The other, 104 Oak Avenue, was a tax forfeit dating back to at least 1995 with the state of Mississippi now the legal owner. It had belonged to William Washington.

Guy, who said, he did own property on Zion Church Lane, but said his was not the one that is at the center of the controversy. He said that he first heard there was a problem a couple of years ago. Guy said that he had not seen that particular property in more than a year and half. Guy said he did not want to be considered a bad landlord, adding that he would make sure he visited the property to see if it was indeed a problem. “I will go down there and look,” said Guy. “If something needs to be addressed, be assured that it will.”

Guy said that he had been contacted in the past by the county about the trailer, but that the one in question was not on his property. “That property sits on a roadway there. We don’t own it,” said Guy, who promised to take care of the problem if one did exist. “None of my properties are slumlord properties,” he said, noting that his partner and himself had 36 properties throughout the county. “Like I said, I will personally go down there and see what it is, and if something needs to be addressed, it will.”

When the Thompsons brought up the issue of the amount of garbage strewn about in the neighborhood, board president Anthony Hales, District 1, said that if the neighbors had an illegal dump site, the Department of Environmental Quality would need to be involved. “If they have an illegal dump site, we have to get the DEQ involved,” Hales said. “We don’t have any authority to bring charges against them, but the DEQ does.”

He said that in Mississippi, property owners “do have certain rights to dispose of some garbage on their own property,” adding that if he had it correct, property owners can “dig a hole and bury it on your own property.”

Holliday, assuring the Thompsons that he would be out to investigate the matter before the day was over, said, “For the record, I think this board has made a lot of effort to clean up this county.”

He said that it was frustrating to want to make things happen faster for the public while being restricted by the policies and legalities inherent in the governmental process. “People are losing faith when they aren’t seeing anything happen,” Holliday said. Holliday said he would personally visit the Zion Church Lane area and see what he could do to speed things up. “I’ll be out there before the day is over,” he promised the Thompsons.

The next Pearl River County Board of Supervisors meeting is Monday, February 16 at 9 am.