The House Next Door

Macon-Bibb commissioners reveal their ideas for spending blight money

Each of the nine members of the Macon-Bibb County Commission are tasked with spending $1 million on blight projects.

Commissioners are in varying stages of deciding how they’ll use the money to tackle an issue that has plagued some of their districts. Some leaders already have identified neighborhoods within their district, and a couple of commissioners have broken down how much they want to spend in areas like tearing down structures and investing in larger projects.

Commissioners say it will be critical to partner with organizations to redevelop properties. Several county officials say one effort could involve using a revolving loan fund that allows borrowed money to be reinvested once it’s paid off.

The Telegraph asked each commissioner where they stand with how the bond funds for blight should be spent. Following is a snapshot of what their plans are since they voted to divide up the $9 million.

GARY BECHTEL, DISTRICT 1

Bechtel said there has been discussion about each commissioner placing a certain amount of money into a revolving loan fund.

“Tearing down properties, I think, is low-hanging fruit,” he said. “I think we can identify tons of those, but we have to take those marginal properties that might have some useful life with some work and fit those into redevelopment projects.”

Bechtel said he’s open to spending some of his money in other districts where blight is a major problem.

“I’m trying to do some creative things and offer opportunity within the entire community,” he said. “I’ll be working with others on ways to spend the money with the greatest return. It may be in District 1. It may not.”

LARRY SCHLESINGER, DISTRICT 2

He described his district as possibly the “kingdom of blight” in Macon-Bibb County.

A blight czar will help determine the feasibility of various projects, and using a revolving loan fund is one avenue to get some properties back into a livable condition, Schlesinger said.

“The problem in District 2 is very pervasive, so there are some structures that will definitely need to come down,” he said. “Some other structures need to be rehabbed and put back on the tax rolls and into people’s hands.”

ELAINE LUCAS, DISTRICT 3

Some of Lucas’ focus will be on two areas that were part of the 5 X 5 neighborhood improvement program -- King’s Park and Highland Circle. Lucas said there are quite a few houses in her district that are unsafe and need to be torn down.

She wants to find programs and people willing to help replace torn-down buildings. It will be important to have a strong plan before moving forward, Lucas said.

“A problem that you create when you take down the structure is you have an empty space and you don’t want it to sit there in neighborhoods,” she said.

MALLORY JONES, DISTRICT 4

Jones said he’s among the commissioners trying to determine the best route for using the money.

“We’re still learning about all the restricted things to being compliant with the bonds issue,” Jones said.

BERT BIVINS, DISTRICT 5

Bivins plans to have meetings to learn about residents’ ideas for projects.

Bivins said he has some general ideas of places he’d like to spend the money, but he wants to be patient in the process.

“You want to have a basic idea, but before you talk about anything, you want to consult with citizens to be sure that whatever you have in mind is something they want,” he said. “All of this takes awhile, but I think it’s important that whatever we do, we have a general consensus in the communities.”

ED DEFORE, DISTRICT 6

DeFore said he welcomes input from residents in his district to help identify projects. DeFore said he hasn’t heard many complaints about blight from residents, but he would want to use the money to help out a couple of blocks, if needed.

“If some of the people in my district would contact me and let me know, I’d be willing to work with them,” he said.

SCOTTY SHEPHERD, DISTRICT 7

After several meetings with community groups, a wish list of projects has begun being developed in Shepherd’s district. Unfortunately, the $1 million won’t address the majority of problems, he said.

“You have the south Macon people that have one set of problems and the Village Green folks that have a bigger set of problems,” he said. “Each one wants something different, so we’re going to try to spread that around.”

VIRGIL WATKINS, DISTRICT 8

Watkins has created a blight remediation plan for his district that calls for using software to survey properties and for the contractors to begin securing some blighted buildings by doing things such as boarding up windows and doors.

Watkins also has a blight budget that breaks down how much each commissioner might want to spend in areas such as demolition and preservation, and using infill development. In his district, he proposes spending $750,000 on demolition and preservation. He also gives options for commissioners to join together to spend $4.25 million on seven redevelopment projects in the neighborhoods along Pio Nono Avenue, Kings Park, Village Green, Pleasant Hill, Lynmore Estates, Ingleside and southeast Macon-Bibb County.

AL TILLMAN, DISTRICT 9

Tillman has a spending formula he wants to follow for the $1 million -- 70 percent on residential properties, 25 percent on commercial properties and 5 percent on recreation areas.

Tillman’s said his first proposal likely will be to spend $75,000 on capital improvements on an Eisenhower Parkway project.

He said that using the Macon-Bibb County Land Bank Authority to acquire and resell some properties is one option on improving a blighted property. The money for parks and recreation areas could help improve public places that can be used by children.

“In any district the properties we want to improve are the ones we own first,” Tillman said.

To contact writer Stanley Dunlap, call 744-4623. or find him on Twitternote>

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