City battling neighborhood blight

By Russell Hood
The Webster Progress-Times

City officials have begun taking action toward cleaning up neighborhood blight in Eupora.
Six addresses have been identified as blighted and are scheduled for a public hearing before structures on the lots are torn down if not cleaned up.
The Eupora Board of Aldermen has been discussing neighborhood blight since April. Last month, Jerry Gary (at-large) said he would like for the city to proceed with sending out blight ordinance violation letters to the owners of properties within the city limits identified by the board as blighted, and to start the process of getting these properties either condemned or cleaned up.
The mayor was directed to send certified courtesy letters to the property owners asking them to upgrade their properties in order to bring them into legal compliance, and, within the next 30 days, submit their plans for their properties.
If no response was received within that time limit , then a public hearing date would be set.
Each alderman was asked to provide the city with properties known to be in violation, and the mayor and city clerk were authorized to proceed with enforcing the blight ordinance.
Mayor Burchfield reported June 2 that the city had only been able to track down one owner so far. The board directed him to send formal notifications to the property owners (if identified) ordering them to come into compliance with the property maintenance and blight prevention ordinances by a set date or legal proceedings would be started.
If the violation is not corrected or the conditions abated within the time set forth, a citation will be issued charging the responsible party or parties with a misdemeanor violation of the terms of the order. The board also set a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. July 7.
City properties being investigated for non-compliance are 208 S. Dunn. 114 Adams Ave., 1499 Adams Ave. 263 Allen St., 417 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and 42 Noel St.

Water Department

Also on June 2, the board accepted the resignation of Assistant Water Superintendent Kenny Cooper because of retirement and authorized the city clerk to advertise to accept applications for the position.
“Kenny Cooper has been a valuable Water Department employee,” Burchfield said.
Additionally, the board approved a new deposit and billing policy for property owners with two or more tenants using one water meter, effective with July bills.
Under the new policy, location owners in the Eupora water system only operating with a “two-on-one” meter will pay another flat rate for additional locations plus water usage. This will be the responsibility of the property owner to pay for the bill and collect from the renter.
In another Water Department matter, the board tabled a request to declare the old pressurized water tank at Bellefontaine surplus. Rufus Marter has requested that the city declare the tank as surplus so bids may be taken. The board first considered the request on April 7, when no action was taken. Water Superintendent Benny Neal recommended that the city not get rid of the tank.

Lake Lot

The board authorized the mayor to negotiate with Flimmon Bailey Frazier, owner of McCain Estate Lot 19 at Whites Creek Lake, to determine a price at which he would consider selling the property with tax incentives. The lot is adjacent to the park and lake.
On March 3, the board discussed a proposed contract between the city and Frazier, who lives out of town, that would allow the city to use the lot for community events as needed in exchange for keeping the lot cut and maintained. No action was taken after that discussion.

Topics of Concern

City resident Dana Myers addressed the board about three topics of concern: urban blight, animal control and conducting a feasibility study on moving the county seat from Walthall to Eupora.
Neighborhood blight was already on the agenda, and Burchfield told her that the city had identified properties that need to be brought up to code or torn down. Myers suggested that community volunteers assist with demotion of houses in violation if they are not brought up to code by a given date.
Regarding animal control, Myers recommended adopting a cooperative agreement with Choctaw or Oktibbeha counties to house stray animals at a shelter.
Additionally, Burchfield explained the referendum process necessary to change the location of the county seat, and told Myers that the matter would be better addressed to the Webster County Board of Supervisors.
During their Jan 21 meeting, supervisors discussed their research in regards to finding the specifications of removing a county seat from one area to another within the county.
After previous contacts with the Mississippi attorney general’s office, the Board of Supervisors was informed that for the county seat to be moved, it would take a vote of two-thirds of the registered voters in the county to agree on it. They researched the matter before setting a non-binding referendum in April in which a majority of those voting supported construction of a new courthouse somewhere in Walthall.

Other Action

In other business June 2, the Board of Aldermen voted to:

  • adopt a revised audit engagement letter with Watkins, Ward and Stafford to perform a cash-based audit instead of an accrual audit for the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2013. CPA Chris Turnipseed addressed the matter with the board.
  • authorize advertisement for bids and apply for a FAA grant for airport runway improvements. This follows approval of the city’s pre-application for the grant.
  • advertise for Community Development Block Grant lagoon repair.
  • table a request from the city clerk and deputy clerks to change City Hall’s business hours to 7:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 7:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. on Friday. The after-hours drop box would still be offered to customers in case they stop by after closing. Ackerman and Mathiston both close early on Friday.
  • adopt a proclamation declaring Eupora a Purple Heart Town, as requested by the state chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Interlocal Agreement

Aldermen voted to enter into an interlocal agreement between the Board of Supervisors and the city during a special-called meeting on May 22. The county board approved the agreement May 19.
The agreement is for the county to repave part of Waterworks Road and remove trees from an area behind the Whites Creek Lake levee, in return for cash payment from Eupora.

Robert Gibbs (Ward 4) was absent June 2.