City to take action on derelict homes

Published 10:57 am Friday, August 8, 2014

More derelict and dilapidated homes could soon be scheduled for demolition as city officials begin moving forward to clear abandoned and blighted properties, Community Development Director Victor Gray-Lewis said.

“We’re going to be targeting the worst properties and begin taking them down,” he said. “We have people calling and complaining about problems in their neighborhoods. They want to see dilapidated buildings taken down.”

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen in July hired a contractor to raze four homes in the city at 2728 Drummond St., 2006 Military St., 1318 Grove St. and 1917 Martin Luther King Blvd.. Gray-Lewis said a decision to raze five to six more homes up for demolition is pending.

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The increased activity to clean properties and remove dilapidated structures is part of a campaign to beautify the city, which also includes increased litter pickups, cleaning illegal dumps and appointing a beautification committee for the city.

City ordinance requires property owners to keep their properties cut and clear of debris and their homes repaired. A violation results in a letter from the city ordering the property owner to clean the property or demolish the dilapidated home, or the city will do it at the owner’s expense.

Most complaints about problem properties come from neighbors, who call the city’s Action Line, officials said. Complaints are sent to the inspection department, and an inspector goes out to look at the property. Inspectors, who have a certain area of the city to cover, also report violations.

Once a violation is determined, the city sends a letter to the property owner giving them 30 days to clean the property or demolish the building, or attend a hearing on the problem held by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Under city ordinance and state law, the city can use its employees or hire a contractor to demolish a building. Gray-Lewis said city public works employees usually handle the demolitions, but a current manpower shortage at public works has forced the city to use private contractors to handle the demolitions.

Demolition, however, is the last resort, Gray-Lewis said, adding that city officials try to work with property owners to either repair or sell the property or demolish the building themselves.

“We really don’t want to be in the business of demolishing buildings,” he said.

When city workers and equipment are used, the property owner is charged a fee based on the city’s pay scale for the employee, an hourly rate for using the equipment based on a scale set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for heavy-equipment costs, the cost of disposing the debris, administrative fees, and penalty based on 25 percent of the city’s cost to raze the building.

Once the property is cleared, the city clerk’s office sends a notice with the charges to the property owner with a notice that if the charges are not paid, the city will attach a special assessment, or lien, for the amount to the property’s tax record. The board then approves attaching the lien.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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