City to move faster on rundown property

Published 11:53 pm Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Demopolis City Council will step up its measures towards taking care of dilapidated houses or property.

The discussion took place at the council’s meeting held Wednesday night at Rooster Hall.

Council members were frustrated at the lack of action taken when the subject was brooched at previous council meetings, but none so much as city attorney Richard S. Manley.

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When city building official Junior Brooker said that the general procedure is to notify the property owners by certified mail, give them 30 days to clean the property up or seek legal means of handling the situation, Manley sounded ready to prosecute dilapidated property owners on the spot.

“I’m going to sue them; I’m sick and tired of this,” Manley said. “That’s what the problem is: You do it (send letters) and you do it and you do it, and they promise and promise (to clean up the property), and it’s a bunch of lies. All of these people need to be taken to court, and I’m going to prosecute them.”

Council members agreed with Manley’s stance.

“I’ve got this lot on Ash Street,” said District 1 representative Thomas Moore. “It’s been about a month-and-a-half, and it looks like a hurricane has been through there. We need to get that thing cleaned up. I would think that that would present a health hazard, and we ought to be able to act expeditiously on that.”

Brooker said that, legally, the property owner needed to be given time to act on complaints.

“What if we got the health department in, because that’s a problem.” Moore said. He was told that they would respond that it would take 45 days to do that.”

Demopolis mayor Mike Grayson asked about having city employees go onto the property and cleaning it up, then billing the property owner.

“Those folks in that neighborhood will have people there for the holidays,” he said. “It really looks bad. What can we do? What are our options?”

Brooker answered with the general procedure of sending a letter by certified mail and allowing 30 days to respond, adding that property owners also have a right to appeal the procedure.

“One of the problems is that, time and time again, when it comes to a point where it’s time to go to court, they come up here and you put it off for six months,” Manley said. “I’m just being honest with you. That must have happened 10 times in the last four years.

Brooker said that the Ash Street property owners were notified verbally about the need to clean up their property, but nothing has been done.

Cooley recommended sending a city crew to the property, cleaning it up and sending the property owners — who live across the street from the property — the bill.

District 2 representative Mitchell Congress recommended changing the building code regarding dilapidated properties to provide for better ways of handling properties that have been left in disarray after several requests to clean it up.

Brooker mentioned that a lot of the property owners don’t have the money to clean up their property.

“The house is already down,” Grayson said. “It’s just that all of the stuff that was in the house is still there, and a good wind is going to have it all over the neighborhood. If we had a dumpster, it would take a day-and-a-half.

“Can we put a lien on the property?” he asked Manley. “Can we condemn the property and then sell it to recoup our costs?”

Manley said that was the direction he was going, and that Sumter County Circuit Court Judge Eddie Hardaway would order it to be cleaned up or sell the property.

The council directed Brooker to write a letter requesting the Ash Street property to be cleaned up within 30 days, then will consider more stringent action if that request is ignored.

In other action taken at the Demopolis City Council meeting:

Pubic works director Mike Baker requested assistance to help pay for the upcoming annual bridge inspections performed by the Alabama Dept. of Transportation. The city would need to pay rent for trucks to be driven under the bridges to provide inspectors a better view. Baker added that just the two bridges on Jackson Street — the “S” curve just west of Fleming Photography and the bridge next to Collins Communications — would have to be inspected, adding that the bridge at Foscue Park may not need to be inspected. The council approved $3,700 for the inspections.

The council approved the second reading of the ordinance to declare the Coliseum property and the State Trooper property adjacent to U.S. Highway 80 as surplus property for the purpose of selling it.

Demopolis Fire Chief Ronnie Few told the council about the need for better fire safety and urged everyone to buy smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.

The council approved an off-premeses table wine application for Demopolis Tobacco Store and More on U.S. Highway 80. The motion passed 4-1, with Congress voting against it and Grayson abstaining.

The council approved Acquinetta Henderson and Catherine Meador to serve on the library board. Meador’s husband, District 4 representative Bill Meador, abstained from the votes.

The council approved an agreement for Grayson to sign the contract dealing with the Airport Industrial Park access road.

The council issued certificates of appreciation to Demopolis High School football head coach Tom Causey and the senior players on the football team for their effort to bring the Tigers to the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs.

The council approved providing city employees with $25 checks to be used for the purchase of turkey or ham for Christmas. The gross cost per check totals $27.07, when Social Security costs and taxes are added in.

Grayson recommended that the scheduled council meetings in January take place on Jan. 7 and 22 instead of Jan. 1 and 15. The council approved that. Grayson said that he issued a purchase order procedure to department heads to help allay unnecessary costs.

He added that he settled with Wilson-Price auditing firm to pay $1,000.

District 3 representative Melvin Yelverton requested that the truck route along U.S. Highway 43 through the city be changed to follow the state route, which goes up Walnut Avenue past Monroe Street to Capitol Street, goes over to Cedar Avenue, then up to U.S. Highway 80, instead of routing trucks onto Monroe Street, then up Cedar Avenue. Grayson said he would look into that.

The next Demopolis City COuncil meeting will be on Wednesday, Jan. 7, at 5:15 p.m. at Rooster Hall.