A newly formed Macon-Bibb County Commission blight committee Thursday gave officials permission to advertise for a “blight czar.”
Formed Tuesday, the ad hoc committee is led by Mayor Pro Tem Bert Bivins and includes Commissioners Larry Schlesinger, Virgil Watkins and Mallory Jones. The committee was created to work with the Reichert administration to map out how Macon-Bibb will spend $14 million in bond funds to fight residential blight.
Thursday’s meeting was designed to bring the committee up to speed about blight progress so far and to decide the next course of action. The committee authorized Assistant County Manager Charles Coney to issue a request for qualifications for a blight consultant. Schlesinger referred to the position as a “blight czar.”
The job is a contract position, and the payment has not yet been decided.
Bivins said the new blight committee is necessary to ensure the problem is tackled in an equitable and efficient manner. Because there’s not enough money to deal with all the blight issues in Macon-Bibb County, commissioners need to attack blight by using the knowledge of their individual districts as well as make sure residents’ voices are heard, he said.
“Over the years, the problem is getting worse faster than it can get fixed,” Bivins said. “We don’t have enough money to get it all fixed.”
Mayor Robert Reichert already has set up a blight task force made up of representatives of various community stakeholders and headed up by Coney. The task force’s main job is to study the overall blight issue and develop a plan for Macon-Bibb officials to put into action.
Coney already has outlined a plan of how to best use the money. So far, commissioners have approved $2 million each to go to the Wise Avenue and Beall’s Hill neighborhoods for blight removal and infrastructure improvements.
That leaves $10 million for other blight issues. Coney and Reichert have earmarked $8 million to be divided among three projects, which haven’t yet been proposed.
Another $1 million will be divided up among the nine districts, with each commissioner identifying one or two key blight issues in their districts to address.
The rest of the money will cover administrative costs, equipment and other fees.
Reichert said Thursday it’s important that blight be addressed not only by razing dilapidated houses but also by finding new uses for the affected properties.
After attending a national blight conference in Detroit last month, Coney said he wants to use an app from Loveland Technologies called “blexting.” That app allows officials and residents to use cell phones or tablets to map a blighted house by photographing it, answering questions about its condition and adding it to a central database of blighted properties.
Coney said about 50 surveys conducted throughout Macon-Bibb using the technology were completed last week.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.