Council seeks way to better combat overgrown lots

Cairo Building Official Brian Hayes and his staff are aggressively working to reduce blight within the corporate limits and already the building department has cited as many blight cases as it did in all of 2012.
On Monday night, Hayes updated the council on his department’s efforts to reduce blight, as well as other operations of the building department.
The building official reported that in the first six months of this year, 31 cases of blight have been cited and already 34 demolition permits have been issued, which is just four less than in all of 2012.
However, Mayor Pro Tem Ernest Cloud Jr. said more has to be done to keep lots where vacant structures have been demolished from becoming overgrown.
Cloud presented the building official with a list of 32 properties that, according to the mayor pro tem, are lots that have been allowed to become overgrown and are “hazardous to the citizens of Cairo.”
Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas suggested a change in the timeline for the enforcement of nuisance abatements.
Hayes said his job is made more complicated by having to deal with absentee owners or multiple owners.
Douglas suggested shortening the time frame so that after a 10 day notice, the city can go in and cut the underbrush and seek reimbursement from the property owner on the 11th day.
The building official also pointed out that the process of obtaining a lien on the property in order to be reimbursed is also time consuming and difficult.
Douglas suggested the city could foreclose on the property and transfer it to organizations like Habitat for Humanity.
Hayes said that many property owners will have the lots cleaned up once he is able to contact them, but he said making contact with the owners can be difficult and he often has to contact the same property owners every time the lots need attention.
“What is the process for dealing with the same people over and over again,” Mayor Richard VanLandingham asked.
According to the the building official, the second offense calls for a mandatory court appearance.
City leaders want to give Hayes the tools to be able to deal with overgrown lots in a more timely fashion, and City Attorney Thomas L. Lehman said he would develop a revised procedure and bring it to the council for consideration.
The mayor suggested Lehman also determine if the rules can be changed when dealing with multiple owners of single pieces of property.
“I don’t know what the answer is, but it makes the town look bad. From Monrovia to Clark Funeral Home I know of at least eight tracts that need cleaning up,” Cloud said.
Councilman Douglas suggested a shorter timeline would help, and he insisted that the city offer no leeway for second and third offenses.
Another issue Hayes said he must deal with is when property owners argue that neighboring or nearby city property is overgrown. “I don’t know what to say back to that,” Hayes said.
Mayor Pro Tem Cloud also questioned whose responsibility it is to maintain retaining ponds at the U.S. Post Office and at Washington Middle School.
“The one at the post office is overgrown and I don’t see how it could hold any water,” Cloud said.
“We need to see what changes we need to make and there are some that will be difficult to improve,” Mayor VanLandingham said.
City Manager Chris Addleton requested that the council give him direction on dealing with city property in flood zones. “If we want to buy more mowers and hire more people, we can put it in the budget, but I need to know what the standard is,” Addleton said.
During the briefing Monday night, Hayes also said that inspections made by the building department prior to new utility services being turned on is reducing the number of fires in the city because fire hazards have been identified by the building official.
Attorney Lehman also said the utility inspections are protecting unknowing tenants who pay the lowest rents in town.
From January until June, Hayes and his department had conducted 127 utility inspections. The building department has also issued 272 permits and conducted 473 inspections. Hayes and Building Inspector David Todd have completed 36 inspections for alcohol beverage licenses.
The building department also oversees the city’s planning and zoning operation, as well as the city’s mapping operation.
“When you look at this summary of what the building department is already doing, you can see Brian and his staff are doing a lot,” Addleton stated.

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