There are about 4,000 blighted properties in Macon-Bibb County. That’s the estimate that was expressed at Macon-Bibb County Commission’s retreat in Athens last week. That estimate, if correct, has remained static even with all the efforts to move the needle. At least one commissioner, Bert Bivins, continually questioned what was going to be done? In truth, there is no good answer.
While there is money in the next SPLOST that will eventually collect $280 million over the next decade starting in 2018, Bivins would like to see more put toward eliminating blight using the same commissioner-specific process used with non-SPLOST bond proceeds. SPLOST proceeds can only be used for the projects on the ballot question. Even the bonds that may be issued and paid back using SPLOST proceeds are restricted to SPLOST projects, interest and principle.
In 2015, the commission voted to allow each of the nine commissioners to spend $1 million on blight projects, while another $1 million was set aside for waste disposal and community engagement, but that money came from a separate bond issue not associated with a SPLOST.
In January 2016, a commission committee approved 15 blight projects. Many of the projects included demolition of blighted properties to create room for new structures or green spaces or recreation areas. And commissioners horse traded with each other with projects that needed more money for completion. While the county has a goal to demolish hundreds of blighted houses, it is a long and drawn out tedious legal process before properties, even in the worse conditions, can be touched by government.
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The problem Commissioner Bivins and the other commissioners find themselves in, is that there isn’t enough money in the general fund to designate another round of blight remediation per commissioner, and there is another factor: A clash of philosophies. Commissioners believe they know their districts best, and what their constituents want and need when it comes to blight remediation, but that leaves them open to charges of cronyism, true or not, when it comes to the administration of blight funds and how those funds are deployed, even though the projects have to be approved by the commission’s Economic and Community Development Committee. We should also not forget that commission members are “elected” and being able to say they brought $1 million to their district is always a plus.
The mayor believes that it is more effective when funds are used to erase blight in a concentrated area rather than diluted throughout the county. While we tend to agree with the mayor’s approach, we have another question that can’t be fixed by pumping dollars into either philosophy.
The real problem in Macon-Bibb County is blight of mind and soul, and there is no bond issue that can fix that. The physical blight is just a manifestation of the mental blight. Too bad there isn’t a SPLOST for that.