Macon-Bibb County commissioners took a step Tuesday toward a major commitment in fighting urban blight, giving tentative approval to a comprehensive study of the problem and possible bond funding for cleaning up blighted property.
Two resolutions passed the commission’s Economic & Community Development Committee by 4-0 votes, with Commissioner Ed DeFore absent. Both resolutions are likely to come up for a final vote by the full commission Aug. 19.
One resolution, co-sponsored by Mayor Robert Reichert and Commissioners Bert Bivins and Virgil Watkins with Commissioner Elaine Lucas asking to join, calls for developing a plan to identify blight and its causes and finding money to fight it.
Bivins said local roads and stormwater infrastructure also will need “massive amounts of money,” but abandoned houses and overgrown lots are driving away investment while the problem continues to spread.
“It’s a losing battle,” he said of the city’s struggle to tear down at least 100 houses per year.
Reichert acknowledged that pace won’t make much of a dent in the problem. About 4,000 houses are estimated to stand empty in Macon-Bibb, and the number is growing, he said.
The second resolution, sponsored by Bivins and Watkins, asks to investigate issuing bonds in short order to begin cleaning up blight. Commissioners also discussed putting blight funding in the next special purpose local option sales tax proposal, which could come up for a vote in 2017. But Watkins and Bivins want to talk about getting some money now.
A bond issue of $10 million wouldn’t be enough to tackle the whole problem but would “jumpstart” work before the next SPLOST, Watkins said.
County Manager Dale Walker has said that repaying a $10 million bond issue would cost about $400,000 per year.
Commissioners approved a $2.1 million with C.W. Matthews Contracting Co. of Marietta to rebuild parts of 30 streets, just over 6 miles.
“These are roads that are all in the former county,” County Engineer David Fortson said. They’re in such bad shape that they need more than just resurfacing, he said. A similar list of streets within the former city is now out for bid, Fortson said.
The work will be paid for with money set aside in the current SPLOST, Assistant County Manager Steve Layson said.
Fortson said work should begin in 30 to 45 days. The affected streets are:
Brookside Drive, Carey Drive, Carriage Trail, Charles Drive, Clairmont Place, Cordell Court, Corey Court, Dana Drive, Dobson Road, Elnora Drive, Fausett Drive, Feagin Road, Francis Drive, Franklinton Road, Lawrence Drive South, Level Acres Drive South, Misty Valley Drive, Powers Plantation Court, Prestwick Park, Randy Drive, St. Anne Court, St. Anthony’s Drive, Stratford Hills Drive, Taylor Terrace, Tharpe Court, Treyburne Way, Stonefield Drive, Vance Circle, Willowdale Drive and Woodmere Trail.
Authorizing $299,994 in federal HOME Program funds to build a group home for six disabled residents cleared the commission’s Economic & Community Development Committee in a 4-0 vote, with DeFore absent.
Georgia Behavioral Health Services sought the money to gut and expand a donated duplex at 980 Schaffer Place, said Cass Hatcher, the agency’s director of facilities and housing development. Georgia Behavioral Health Services already has eight such group homes scattered through local neighborhoods, he said.
Federal HOME funds only can be spent on projects such as this, said Julie Moore, assistant to the county manager for budget and planning.
Members of the commission’s Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to bring Macon-Bibb standards on animal care, animal abandonment and tethering into alignment with state law.
“What we’re doing is cleaning up our old ordinances,” said Commissioner Scotty Shepherd, committee chairman.
The ordinances will raise the fine for not controlling or caring for an animal to $75 for a first offense; to $150 for abandoning an animal; and $100 for tethering or transporting an animal illegally. Subsequent offenses have higher fines.
The laws also will add a $5 fee to each citation, with the money to be used for training Animal Welfare officers.
Senior Assistant County Attorney Crystal Jones said officers plan to educate offenders on initial violations, and then citing and fining only the repeat offenders.
The controversial proposal to rename Haywood Road for the late Rev. Marshell Stenson Jr. was tabled after being sent back to the Facilities & Engineering Committee for further debate. Commissioner Al Tillman said he and Lucas, the proposal’s sponsor, will talk to the street’s residents and representatives of St. Luke Baptist Church -- which Stenson pastored -- and “work it out with them.”
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.