Citizens’ Task Force asks city for more support

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 2, 2006

Rick Couch / News Editor

Since the Citizens’ Task Force was launched last May, they have done their best to make the city of Demopolis more attractive.

But the group would like to see more support from the city. Wednesday, several members of the task force gathered at the city council’s meeting to present their concerns.

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Task Force member Claude Neilson said they joined the group because they felt they could help.

“Each of us on the task force is committed to making sure the city is improved,” Neilson said. “We are concerned about dilapidated houses, the numerous abandoned automobiles and overgrown lots in the city. Each of us who agreed to serve wanted to because we felt like there was a need and we could make a difference.”

The group felt it was important for the city to enforce their laws and make Demopolis attractive for growth and improve property value, Neilson said. Unfortunately, they do not feel they are getting much cooperation.

“We feel a sense of frustration,” Neilson said. “We feel that we may be insignificant or irrelevant because we don’t have any positive action taken on the items we have sent you. The reason we are here tonight is because we want to express to you our concerns that we don’t feel like we need to meet and identify properties unless there is a commitment on behalf of the city and mayor to go forward and take action.”

Since the group began meeting in May of 2005, Neilson said, they have identified 37 properties. Eight have been successes, which means the property owners took action on their own. Eleven properties were turned over for city action and 18 are still within their 90-day time frame to take action, he said.

Neilson said the group is doing their part, they just want the city to hold up its end of the bargain.

“We think we have quite a lot of things going for us here,” Neilson said. “We have good school systems, we have good park and recreation and we have good fire and police protection. Let’s have good enforcement of buildings and automobiles that need to be removed.”

Councilmember Jack Cooley said the current council launched the force and they should step forward to help.

“We all were a part of creating that task force, I specifically pushed for it,” Cooley said. “If we are not going to back it, we should just drop it. My question is what do we need to do to facilitate what they are attempting to do?”

City attorney Rick Manley said cleaning up the properties could take a large financial commitment.

“It is going to cost some money,” Manley said. “We could be looking at $25,000 to $30,000 to get this cleaned up.”

A suggestion to make the system work was setting liens on the properties in question if they passed the 90-day period. But, this also could prove to be an expensive endeavor. Manley said it could cost $2,800 to clean up some properties, but they may only sell for $500.

Councilman Woody Collins said he would like to see the city do whatever was feasible to work with the force.

“I commend you for your effort and I appreciate it,” Collins said. “I am not looking for ways to spend the city’s money, but I can’t think of a better expenditure. I think the state of our city is extremely important and I for one don’t want to see you slow down. I want to see you continue forward.”

The decision of the council was to present a progress report to the task force on their role. If their progress is not satisfactory, they will discuss methods to work with the task force more effectively.

Council hears estimates to repair Jackson St. bridge

At the Wednesday night meeting of the Demopolis City Council, Bob Evans of Almon and Associates discussed deterioration of the West Jackson Street bridge and its needs for repairs.

This week, Evans was back again to further talks about whether to repair or replace the bridge.

Repairing the bridge is estimated to cost between $115,000 and $150,000. Another option, to repair the bridges superstructure, is estimated to cost $300,000.

Evans said even if they chose to replace the bridge, they would have to make repairs. If the ultimate goal was to replace the bridge, he added, it might be wise to look into repairs that are needed rather than completely refurbishing the current bridge.

“We are going to have to repair that bridge anyway, I promise you,” Evans said. “I don’t think you would want to spend $300,000 to repair the superstructure if you are going to repair the bridge.”

Aside from U.S. Highway 80, the bridge is a major outlet for cross-town traffic. Councilman Woody Collins said because so many people use the bridge, they had to do something.

“I think we are all under the impression that we have no choice,” Collins said. “To keep businesses on that side of town up and running, we are going to have to do something to the bridge in its current state. I think we would all also love to see an opportunity to replace it.”

The numbers delivered to the council are early estimates, Evans said. Once they have a better idea of what they have to do, a concrete set of details can be provided.

“We don’t know if these are firm numbers or not yet,” Evans said. “That is just an estimate. We would do some quick drawings of what we want and put it up for bid and see what happened.”

The council voted to allow Evans to look into repairs and report back to the council.