- Paris Flash
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Don “Pinky” Wilson, chairman of the City of Paris’ Building and Standards Commission, vents to the Paris City Council on Monday night the frustration of running out of budgeted funds to tear down a seemingly never-ending list of dilapidated houses in the city. Also in the picture are finance director Gene Anderson(left) and code enforcement supervisor Robert Talley. (eParisExtra.com photo by Charles Richards)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
The Paris City Council signaled Monday night that it is ready to step up the pace of tearing down the city’s hundreds of dilapidated houses.
Mayor AJ Hashmi had asked for a report from code enforcement supervisor Robert Talley. The mayor said he was concerned after hearing complaints about a particular house on Fitzhugh Street that had been marked for demolition in July but was still standing.
Talley reminded the council that the city’s Buildings and Standards Commission only resumed meeting in February after being sidelined in mid-2011 by a Dallas lawsuit concerning cities’ taking down dilapidated properties.
Since February, Talley said, the BSC has issued 70 “repair or demolish” orders on dilapidated structures in the city, and 10 more about to be added to thel list, but there was only enough money in the budget to take down 10 houses.
The council budgeted $110,000 for demolition of dilapidated houses in the 2011-2012 fiscal year, Talley said, but $50,000 was taken out of it in January to clean up a multi-story building that collapsed in downtown Paris in January.
That left just over $60,000, and that was quickly depleted, Talley said.
Councilman Matt Frierson said the council should dip into the city’s savings, if necessary, to replace the $50,000 that went to cleanup the emergency in January.
He got quick agreement from several other council members.
“Is there not a way we could have used our reserves for that?” Frierson asked finance director Gene Anderson, who was also interim city manager at the time the money was taken out.
“If the council authorizes that, we could certainly do that. I don’t think at this point the council has,” Anderson said.
“If the council wants to do that, and just lets staff know that is what you intend to do, we’re about at the time of year when we’re going to do budget amendments anyway,” Anderson said.
“My thought is, it feels after being on hold for so long, we’re at the end of the rope when we don’t necessarily have to be. That was a single-occurrence event,” Frierson said.
“That amount should be reimbursed. I see what you’re saying,” the mayor said.
“If the council wants to do that, we’re just about the time of year when we’re going to do budget amendments anyway. That’s just one suggestion,” Anderson said, suggesting money could be transferred into the demolition budget from another fund with surplus cash.
“Can’t you do a budget amendment anytime you get four votes?” Wright asked.
“We can,” Anderson said.
Don Wilson, chairman of the Building and Standards Commission, noted there was $48,000 from last year’s demolition budget that went into reserves because of the months-long moratorium on demolitions of dilapidated housing.
“I don’t see a problem of taking that $48,000 back out again,” Wilson said.
Wilson said it’s frustrating to members of the BSC that nothing could be done from June of last year, “and here we are 12 or 14 months later, everything’s finally all legal and we start issuing these demolition orders, but there’s no money to take them down.”
He added, “I mean, what do you want us to do. We’ve certainly got a lot more houses to take down. And we’ve got complaints, the one on Fitzhugh Street for example. That house has been up for demolition, and we finally get it, but it’s not down, and the word is all over town. A lot of these houses that we’re tearing down now had stickers on ‘em to be torn down last year.”
Hashmi said he would like to call a special meeting as soon as possible for the council to authorize going into reserves to replenish the demolition fund.
“Yes. We spent a year and a half talking about accountability,” Frierson said.
“Can’t you do a budget amendment anytime you get four votes?” councilman John Wright asked.
City manager John Godwin said he will immediately begin setting aside more money for demolition of dilapidated houses.
“If you want to have a special meeting, we can do it, but I’ve seen enough heads nod that staff-wise, we’ll just proceed. I’ll give them the orders to start tearing stuff down right away,” Godwin said.
“You don’t think we need to have a budget amendment?” Hashmi asked.
“We do, but we don’t need to wait on one. I’ve got enough council feedback to take action if you want me to,” Godwin said.
“Go for it,” councilwoman Cleonne Drake said.
Some citizens living in run-down houses have qualified for no-cost new homes to be built on their lot after the existing structure is torn down.
After the meeting, Wilson wondered if there might be a rebate from the government on the money spent to demolish the old property. Anderson said he did not think so.
Anderson said Tuesday that about 60 percent of the demolition money is for tearing down the properties, and about 40 percent is for the landfill fees
The finance director said he would have to look back through some past budgets to see how the $110,000 demolition budget for 2011-2012 compares to past years.
The council will begin work on Aug. 22, at a special meeting set for 5 p.m., to begin looking at the budget for the fiscal year that will begin Oct. 1.
Godwin had scheduled Aug. 27 as the day he would present the budget to the council, but Hashmi said the council is anxious.
A public hearing will be required on the manager’s proposal, and additional public hearings would be required for any amendments to it.
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