By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – City officials are forging ahead with the cleanup of blight in Water Valley with plans to target two properties per month that are dilapidated, abandoned or burned-out properties and deemed a threat to the public health, safety and welfare of the neighborhood.
The topic surfaced at last Tuesday’s Board of Alderman meeting after realtor and county supervisor Lee McMinn requested an update on the effort in his fifth appearance this year before aldermen on the topic. McMinn first inquired about the status of a house at 105 Bell Street after aldermen voted last month to tear down the abandoned structure and clean the overgrown lot.
Mayor Donald Gray reported that the city had determined the best course of action was to hire an outside contractor for the cleanup on Bell Street instead of using city workers as originally planned for the demolition.
“Actually because I didn’t think it was a good idea for Michael (Scroggins, Street Dept. Manager) to try to tear it down with his department, because we don’t have the equipment,” Gray explained, adding he had two quotes from contractors to present to aldermen for the job. Aldermen approved the bid from Brandon’s Dozer Service for $2,500 for the job.
(Update: Brandon Crocker demolished the house and was cleaning the property at presstime Tuesday.)
City Attorney Daniel Martin also reported that he is working with the city’s new code enforcement officer, Trey Magee, and City Clerk Vivian Snider on an active list of properties that will be addressed in coming months.
“We are still moving forward with two a month plan and that is what my game plan is going to be, handling two per month,” Martin said. The work includes tracking down owners of the properties to provide a statutory notice and setting a hearing date for aldermen to hear the case.
There have already been two hearings – one for the Bell Street property and another for 1600 Eckford Street allowing the owners to provide input on the condition of their property. During the Bell Street hearing in August, the property owner agreed the house needed to be demolished.
During the hearing for the Eckford Street property earlier in the summer, owner James Ray Burleson told aldermen he was working on the property. Aldermen agreed to give him additional time, and in a follow-up visit a month later Burleson presented pictures showing he was making progress, prompting city officials to give him another six months before reviewing the property again.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Martin also noted that at least five properties have been cleaned up during the city’s effort to address the problem this year, including the burned out funeral home building adjacent to Baker Street Park.
Owners of the some of the properties mentioned by Martin took action in response to a courtesy letter that was mailed to more than a dozen property owners earlier in the year. The courtesy letters were mailed as a first step before requesting the property owners to appear at city meetings in a formal hearing.