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Flaggs: Law makes code enforcement difficult

Mayor George Flaggs Jr. wants to ensure the city’s commercial buildings conform to building codes, but he said building inspectors can’t go in active and vacant buildings to inspect them for code violations.

Flaggs said April 1 he wanted to start cracking down on vacant and derelict commercial buildings and either bring them up to code and get them occupied or take them down.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen he complained about the lack of authority from the state to inspect and enforce the city’s building codes on vacant buildings, and he plans to take steps to change the law.

Flaggs’ comments were prompted after reviewing a Mississippi Attorney General’s opinion requested by the city of Oxford in 2012 that said municipalities could not go on commercial property to inspect derelict and vacant commercial buildings.

He instructed city attorney Nancy Thomas to research the statutes and prepare a bill to be introduced in the 2020 session of the Legislature.

“How can we hold these building owners accountable if we can’t go on the property to inspect it and at least prevent some of these disasters or be able to assist them before it gets to a point (where a building is unsafe)?” he asked.

The comments came after the Board of Mayor and Aldermen received bids to demolish a vacant and dilapidated building at 2400 Washington St. The building was an early location for Mississippi Hardware.

“The law needs changing, governor, lieutenant governor, the Legislature. It makes no sense.”

He said the state holds cities accountable for cleaning up and controlling deteriorating and dilapidated buildings and blighted areas, particularly on major thoroughfares like Clay and Washington Street, “But we can’t do nothing” when it comes to code enforcement involving the commercial buildings.

Flaggs said the city had been trying to get in the building at 2400 Washington for several years. “If the owner won’t let us in, we can’t get in,” he said.

“I don’t think they (the state) understands what we have to go through to keep buildings up to code or to keep your neighborhood looking safe and of value,” he said.

That the state would require cities to enforce regulations and then tie its hands, Flaggs said, “Baffles me that government works like this. The state will not give us permission to inspect, but wants us to keep (properties up).

The board received four bids to demolish the building at 2400 Washington St.: Mims Inc. of Utica, $77350; Advance Environmental Consultants Inc. Jackson, $84,525; Jack Ferrrill’s Heavy Equipment, Jackson, $78,789.20; and Socrates Garrett  Enterprises, Jackson, $66,000. The bids were taken under advisement.

The building was built about 1928 and occupied first by the Keith Williams Motor Company and in 1935 by the O’Neill Motor Company, which moved out of the building in 1937.

In 1939, the federal Works Progress Administration used the building for its lending department, and in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the building was the home of the Grego Buick Company and in 1954, the Abraham Buick Company.

Mississippi Hardware occupied the building in 1955 and stayed there until the company moved in the 1980s to the former M. Fine and Sons Manufacturing garment factory, which is the site for the proposed technology center.

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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