Bibb County’s government is searching for ways to quickly clean up scores of dilapidated houses.
Chief Administrative Officer Steve Layson said he’s trying to explore every technique with every potential partner, in an effort to get run-down properties either fixed up or cleared out.
“I want to get it to where we deal in volume, then I want to get it to where we can turn around and sell those properties” that are not cleaned up by owners, Layson said.
Commissioners have been trying to tackle the blighted properties problems for years, but haven’t had much success. The county’s one code enforcement officer has to spend half his time chasing discarded tires, and commissioners themselves had cut budget requests for cleanup funds.
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Two years ago, the county was considering a “blight tax,” which would significantly increase the property taxes on a rundown parcel. Under that proposal, properties that get cleaned up could get some tax credits in some variants of blight taxes. Bibb County never implemented the tax.
Layson said a blight tax, partnerships with nonprofit groups and efforts to streamline the judicial process are among the things he’s considering.
One basic challenge: Because of asbestos, the houses can be expensive to tear down, and the value of some of the house lots is lower than the demolition costs. In effect, taxpayers would fund some of the cleanups without getting the money back.
Layson said he doesn’t yet know all the reasons the county suffers from so much blight, whether it’s the population loss in some areas, absentee landlords, foreclosures or other reasons.
Commissioner Lonzy Edwards, who represents much of east Bibb County, said he’s also searching for answers to the county’s blight problems.
“I thought the measures we adopted what, two to three years ago, allowing people to bring nuisance claims against the owner, would give us an advantage on taking the initiative,” Edwards said.
But residents haven’t been filing many of their own complaints, and Edwards didn’t know whether most people knew they could file the complaints, which would be investigated by the county’s sole code enforcement officer.
“We don’t even have a full-time person doing it,” Edwards said. “But the question again -- where are we going to find the money?”
Macon’s Inspection and Fees Department is moving to Bibb County’s government in July, and Layson said that may be a good reason to revisit how code enforcement is done.
Edwards is also intrigued by the idea of getting more charities involved or working with the county, citing a recent report in which nonprofit groups upgrade houses that couldn’t be easily sold. Donors -- banks or homeowners -- can get tax deductions.
Among the nonprofits working to improve housing in Bibb County are Rebuilding Macon, Habitat for Humanity’s local chapter and Fuller Center for Housing of Macon.
Rebuilding Macon’s executive director, Debra Rollins, previously said Macon has more than 8,000 substandard houses.
Layson said he hopes to set up meetings with interested people to discuss what could be done to clean up the county faster.
In 2009, Bibb County auctioned more than 300 long-dormant properties for about $215,000. The large-scale effort returned most of the properties to the tax rolls, but also cost about $151,000 in processing costs.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.