City taking aggressive approach for cleanup

Published 7:01 pm Saturday, January 12, 2019

City officials are adopting a more aggressive policy to get people to clean their property in the city.

“This concerted effort is about cleaning this community up and bringing the city of Vicksburg as a whole into the 21st century,” North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said. “This board is turning up the heat on derelict properties and abandoned vehicles.”

At its Jan. 7 meeting, the board addressed a seven-page list totaling about 70 derelict vehicles sitting in yards and on city streets in violation of city ordinances. Under the city code, a vehicle must have a current car tag and be operable. In other words, the owner must be able to start the engine and drive it.

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Mayfield said the crackdown on junked vehicles is just the beginning.

“Once we get all these inoperable vehicles moved or brought up to code, we’re going to start from the beginning on the derelict properties, whether it’s a property that doesn’t have a structure on it or a property that has a structure,” he said.

“We’re going to ask them (property owners) to clean up around their properties. If it’s property people are living in, they’re (inspectors) going to write these properties up that might be a hazard to the individuals or the surrounding community.”

He said city inspectors “ are out in each and every neighborhood in the city. They are currently in the North Ward working south. To this point, we’ve gotten very good response from people.”

South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour said he and Mayfield are following up on complaints, adding the city’s inspectors are doing their job.

“We’re starting off 2019 making sure we’re getting after it. We’re serious; we want to clean it up and get the city right,” he said.

“We were doing a pretty good job of it in 2018, (but) we felt we needed to apply more pressure and make sure the residents are aware they need to keep their property clean and keep the cars off the street and out of the yards.”

Mayfield said inspectors are tagging more houses, “Meaning we come in and feel they are not livable, and most of these houses are vacant. We have a running list of vacant houses that are not being kept. So many of them are heir properties and no one’s taken responsibility for them.

“We’re going to put more money in demolition and give the property owners every opportunity they can to bring the properties up to minimum standard according to city ordinances and building codes.”

If a property owner does not bring their property up to code or refuses to take responsibility for the code violation, he said, “We’re going in and cut and clean the properties and send you a bill.”

When the property owner does not pay the city for cleaning their derelict property, the city places a lien on the property that must be paid before that property could be sold.

Mayfield estimated the city is “running about $600,000 in the hole cleaning these properties, and a large portion of that the city will never recoup. We can’t continue that.”

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen are willing to work with residents to correct the problems if the home they live in is in disrepair, Mayfield said.

He said city officials in the past have worked with programs like Service Over Self and AmeriCorps to help people repair the homes.

“People have been complying and I appreciate that,” he said, adding about 85 percent of the property owners listed in the Jan. 7 inspection department report complied with the orders to either remove the vehicles or get them operating.

“That’s probably the best that I’ve ever seen with the community complying with community development and what the inspectors have asked them to do,” he said.

“We want people to know if there’s a problem in a particular area, they need to call and talk with somebody in community development or the inspection department about a problem in their neighborhood.”

“They can call anonymously. If they feel something’s not right, call and let them know they need to come out and look.”

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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