Politics & Government

Macon blight meeting seeks residents’ help in gathering data

Macon-Bibb County wants the public’s help in identifying abandoned and run-down properties, Assistant County Manager Charles Coney told a crowd of about 50 Thursday night.

The group, which included heads of many local government departments and community organizations, gathered for a town hall meeting on urban blight at the Peyton Anderson Community Services Building.

Half or more of the crowd were residents or representatives of neighborhood and church groups. Commissioners Larry Schlesinger and Virgil Watkins were the only elected officials present.

Katrina Curry, representing Bethel CME Church and Between Friends Ministries, said she attended with hopes of learning about plans for community cleanup.

“I learned a lot. Some things we’ve said before -- a lot of it was a little repetitious. But I can see where they are trying to do some things,” she said.

Coney told the crowd that Macon-Bibb officials went to Michigan to see how the cities of Detroit and Flint, which face far larger blight problems than Macon, are dealing with it.

That includes detailed mapping, largely done by volunteers. Coney asked anyone in the audience with a smartphone to hold it up.

“Guess what. You are automatically positioned to do what they’re doing in Detroit,” he said.

Both of those Michigan cities found community input and involvement to be essential, Coney said.

Soon Macon-Bibb will seek mapping technology to use locally and will start offering contracts for broad-scale environmental testing and demolition, he said.

A comprehensive blight plan is due before commissioners in late May. Macon-Bibb is going to use $10 million in bond funds to really tackle blight, starting in the next few months.

“Our commissioners have said

‘We believe in this, and we’re willing to go into debt to make sure it happens,’ ” Coney said.

But it will take more than that, so grass-roots help is vital, he said.

Some in the audience asked about putting the unemployed to work on cleanup tasks, while others wanted more mowing of public rights of way. Coney agreed that paying small amounts for yard and cleanup work is possible, but he urged residents to use the SeeClickFix system to request mowing of specific areas.

Many people wanted faster action on clearing overgrown or burned-out houses. Coney acknowledged it’s a slow process and reiterated the long list of legal and environmental tasks required to take possession and demolish a problem structure.

Curry said afterward that she wants to see spending and effort spread more evenly through various neighborhoods.

“I’m still kind of worried about that,” she said. But she said she thought equalization would come in time.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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