Problem of blight in the ETJ will still face the financial hurdle

Aug. 30, 2013 @ 06:08 PM

Elijah Nicholson and Elbert Ouzts care about their neighborhood. It lies in the extra-territorial jurisdiction, a buffer zone of sorts between what is clearly City of Henderson and Vance County.

It’s also a zone of eyesores, unsafe areas for children and blighted structures ripe for criminal activity. Houses are run down, some are burned out into ramshackle ruins, many with overgrowth of vegetation. Trash can be seen, including abandoned vehicles.

In May, Nicholson and Ouzts started talking at City Hall.

Ray Griffin, the city manager, took up their complaints with the county manager, Jerry Ayscue. And while progress is slow, the two jurisdictions responsible for the area are beginning dialogue and trying to craft a plan.

“It is a terrible shame that so many property owners have literally walked away from their properties and thus the responsibility for taking care of them,” Griffin said.

The responsibility when an owner leaves becomes complex.

In a presentation to the City Council this past week, Griffin told members the baseline concept so far is for the city to provide administrative support to enforce against blight and the county to fund contractor demolitions and landscaping work as needed.

“He appreciates the concept,” Griffin said of Ayscue, “but the county has not budgeted for this. He thought perhaps this could be something the two jurisdictions could further discuss as we begin to develop the fiscal year 2015 budget.”

Nicholson on Friday said he was pleased to hear there is progress toward organizing a joint city-county response to the problem.

“This has been going on for years and years,” Nicholson said. “I feel like they have been sort of neglecting us. But that would be terrific if they could get it on for next year’s budget. We can wait a year.”

The process from enforcement to demolition or clearing of a problem property begins with notifying property owners, placing public notices in keeping with state law, then if necessary, budgeting public funds to have the work done, sometimes against the wishes of property owners.

Corey Williams, code compliance director for the city, has a budget of $50,000 for demolitions and basic overgrowth cutting to be applied to an ongoing citywide campaign against blight — inside city boundaries.

“This is to be applied to all contract services,” Griffin said, adding there is nothing left over in the city’s budget for the ETJ area blight.

The city has a say in code enforcement, but the county has jurisdiction to apply its property care ordinances. According to Griffin, there are no city or county leaders in denial over the need for code enforcement in the ETJ.

In the meantime, Griffin said ordinance changes are appropriate to update city code and provide clarification on what the city’s limited enforcement role is for the ETJ.

A proposed set of ordinance changes along with a presentation on the status of the problem is being prepared for submission to the Henderson Planning Board, which Griffin said is the next step.

Once the board has reviewed and formulated their recommendation on the ordinance changes, a public hearing would be scheduled for open comments on passage of the ordinance documents and on ETJ blight concerns.

 

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.