The first requests to spend bond money to address blight in their commission districts have come from Commissioners Al Tillman and Virgil Watkins. Watkins plans are the most ambitious. He wants $300,000 to tear down 25 properties -- that’s $12,000 per site. While that might sound excessive to the casual observer, the county just can’t go around tearing down other people’s properties without jumping through a few legal hoops. Those hoops cost money -- unless the county plans on going another more controversial route.
Tillman wants to demolish a home on Log Cabin Drive that’s long been a danger. The home sits at the fork of Log Cabin Drive and Hollingsworth Road on the apex of a hill. Traffic traveling south can’t see cars trying to merge onto Log Cabin from Hollingsworth and those merging cars can’t see them -- until the last second. Cars turning left onto Hollingsworth from Log Cabin also can’t see oncoming traffic.
While both of these projects are well and good, what happens when this little money runs out? Watkins says that after these 25 homes are demolished only 20 percent of the decaying homes in his district will remain. How does he know that? Has the county completed a blight study so that it knows how many blighted properties are in the county and in what stages of blight they sit? If they had, they would not have come up with this cockamamie idea of splitting $9 million among the commission districts. Blight is not an equal opportunity community destroyer. Some sections of the county are more blighted than others.
The fact of the matter is fairly simple. While this pot of $9 million may help get some of the commissioners re-elected, it will do little to impact blight in the county because there is no comprehensive battle plan that has a life cycle beyond the commissioners’ terms in office. While well-meaning, some commissioners need to take a step back and ask a few questions.
If there is to be an effort to allow neighbors in blighted areas to buy the soon-to-be vacant lots, where is it? How do we determine the cost? Where does the sale money go -- to the owner or to a not-for-profit? Will the county use its eminent domain powers? What are the concrete plans for upkeep of the vacant lots once the structures are torn down, and who will do that work?
There are dozens of other questions that need to be answered before a penny is spent. We hope the majority of the commission has the good sense to stop this rush to spend money just for the sake of spending money.