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City Officials Will Address Abandoned, Dilapidated Properties

Lee McMinn also shared pictures of an abandoned car that was left on Woods Street for several weeks.

By David Howell

Editor


WATER VALLEY – Work has started to compile a list of dilapidated properties in town in need of attention following discussion on the matter during the monthly city board meeting on Oct. 2.

The topic surfaced when local realtor Lee McMinn presented pictures of numerous dilapidated, abandoned and burned-out properties in the city. He explained that the properties can effect the value and marketability of real estate. 

“My question to the board would be is there an ordinance on the books that requires property to be maintained in an acceptable condition?” McMinn asked.

“There is,” stated Alderman-At-Large Donald Gray, who presided over the meeting in the absence of Mayor Larry Hart. 

“Has that been enforced?” McMinn asked.

“We have been very lax on it,” Gray added.

“In my opinion, the homeowner is losing. The buyer is losing. The City of Water Valley is losing, because if the assessed value is affected, that directly affects the amount of tax dollars that can be collected,” McMinn explained. “I would very respectfully ask that the city take a very aggressive effort,  to not pick and chose one or two here and there, but to actually identify each and every single property in Water Valley and make a determination that meets the criteria and move forward with some type of cleanup or whatever the case may warrant,” McMinn recommended.

“I think we all agree,” Gray answered. “ I have a suggestion on that, because it has kind of been a pet peeve for me also.” Gray  then suggested each aldermen to make a list of property in their wards that needs attention.

Discussion then centered on details in the ordinance regarding enforcement.

“It can be split between two different people, it can be the chief of police, it can be the code enforcement officer,” Gray explained about the person in charge of enforcing the ordinance.

“If there are some things in there that involve zoning, it could be Mr. (Billy) Humphreys (building inspector). If we have to take action, it will have to be the (police) chief,” Gray continued. 

Citing the 2004 ordinance, Ward Three Alderman Cinnamon Foster noted that the primary person in charge of enforcement is the building inspector. Foster also noted the police involvement in the past.

“It is my understanding that the police department has been responsible for enforcement of this ordinance in the past. The department is down to five officers at this time and that is including the chief,” Foster continued.  “Water Valley is an 11-man force, we need to fully staff that department. Enforcement of this ordinance may cause undue burden on this department at this time,” Foster added. 

She also explained that the ordinance addresses a variety of problems including junk, grass and weeds and burned out buildings. 

Citing the ordinance, Foster added another option, a petition can be presented to the city for action if it is signed by a majority of neighboring property owners residing within 400 feet of a property alleged to be in need of cleaning. 

“I think we have opened up our options to have more people be involved in the whole process,” Foster. added.

McMinn, who also serves as a county supervisor, noted that similar petitions in the county have been effective.

“In the long run you will win because the neighborhood gets cleaned up. Values go up and even the person who owns the property, sometimes they just need a little incentive. They want to do it, but logistically it is a hard thing for them to start that process.” McMinn said. He also acknowledged that the city could be out some money initially if city crews or outside contractors are hired to clean up property and the expense is added to the property taxes of the parcel.

“So to be clear for everyone in town, the board and the mayor have the authority, if under this policy a house is deemed unsafe or unsanitary to either clean it up or tear it down?” Ward One Kagan Coughlin asked. 

“Specifically the statute says that in such a state of uncleanliness is to be menace to the public health, safety and welfare of the community,” City Attorney Daniel Martin noted, citing the state statute referenced in the city ordinance. 

Couglin then said the public needs to have clear understanding on the definition of clean property and the legal steps the city can use to provide enforcement.

Martin then recommended that city officials first identify clear and obvious examples as the cleanup gets underway, similar to Gray’s earlier recommendation. 

Aldermen also voted to publish the 2004 ordinance in the North Mississippi Herald to help educate the public on the matter. The ordinance appears on Page 12.

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