Council hears Task Force concerns

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 16, 2007

DEMOPOLIS &045; After more than 30 minutes of heated debate over a blighted property in the downtown area, council members voted to accept the less aggressive of two proposals.

Controversy over a dilapidated building at 206 W. Washington St. extends back to April, 2005, when the Citizens Task Force presented its first list of blighted properties around the city to the council.

The council created the Citizens Task Force in March, 2005. The group was charged with identifying blighted and unsafe properties and bring them to the attention of the council so city leaders could seek to improve them.

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John Cox Webb, a member of the Citizens Task Force, gave a detailed summation of the various events that have taken place in an effort to get the property cleaned up. He also expressed his displeasure over what he called the council’s lack of enforcement of deadlines they set for the property to be cleaned up and made safe.

Councilman Melvin Yelverton proposed a motion that would have given the property owner until March 15 to begin work on the property and until April 15 to complete work. The motion detailed that the property must be completely enclosed on all sides, the existing roof area be fixed and all land associated with the property be cleaned up.

Councilman Charles Jones objected to the motion saying that it violated the Southern Congress Building Codes adopted by the city. According to the codes, a person has six months after the purchase of a building permit to begin work. Jones also objected because he said the timeline put forth by Yelverton was unrealistic.

The council and mayor split on the vote, with Councilmen Yelverton, Jack Cooley and Robert Moore all voting in favor. Mayor Cecil Williamson joined Councilmen Jones and Wood Collins in voting against the motion.

Collins said he voted against the motion because the end result would have been that the city would be forced to tear down the building. He said he had a hard time with that decision at this point because of concerns by the Historic Preservation Society, who says the building may have some historic significance.

But Moore said the city’s failure to act was a failure of what they pledged to do.

Moore harkened back to the city’s commitment to rid the city of blighted properties in an effort to spur economic development.

The council finally approved a measure that would require the property owner to purchase a building permit within 30 days, after which she has six months to begin work with no deadline for a date of completion.

Yelverton voted against the measure, and Moore abstained from the vote. Moore said he wanted to review the building code’s section on blighted properties before he agreed to something he feared would delay needed action by the council.

In other business, the council:

-Accepted a rate increase by Arrow Disposal, Inc., with whom the city contracts for trash pick-up and waste services. The city has a five-year contract that expires next summer.

In the contract, Arrow has the right to raise their rates one time each year. The mayor said this was the just the second time the company had raised the rates.

Arrow will increase rates by 30 cents per household per month. Williamson said Arrow serves approximately 3,700 households, which means Arrow should see a $1,110-per-month increase in revenue. The rate increase will take effect this month.

The decision as to whether or not residents will feel the effects of the tax increase will be left to the city’s Finance Board. Moore said he believes the city just absorbed the last increase without passing it along to the citizens.

– Accepted a proposal from Julian Construction to undertake renovations to Fire Station No. 2. The station needs reinforcements added to the floor on which some heavy equipment sits. The cost of the estimate was for $5,133. The money will come from the Fire Department’s current budget, so no additional expenditures were needed.

-Appointed Aliquippa D. Allen to the Historical Preservation Society. Allen is a Demopolis native who just returned to the city after spending 28 years in the Air Force. She will replace Kay Dunn, who resigned and is moving out of town.

-Tabled appointments to the Cemetery Board, Beautification Committee and Industrial Development Board. The appointments were tabled so that councilmen could have time to review proposed appointees from each group.