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Program allows takeover of derelict properties

It’s been more than six months since Selectman Donovan Hill first proposed allowing McComb residents to buy blighted properties for little money but the city board this week voted to enact the plan.

Hill brought the idea to the board in March after seeing it introduced in Jackson. Its intention was to improve the safety and appearance of neighborhoods and to add revenue-producing properties to the tax rolls.

The Enterprise-Journal reports (http://bit.ly/2eRJtf6) parcels will cost between $10 and $250, depending on the buyer’s proximity to the property — next door, on the same block or elsewhere in the city — and whether it is only a vacant lot or has a structure on it.

Terms of the purchase will include a requirement that the new owner clean up the property and complete a rehabilitation or development plan.

Hill’s proposal has come up for board discussion several times but met resistance by some selectmen because of the perceived difficulty and expense of transferring ownership of properties to the city, which would be necessary before it could sell them.

When the city receives complaints about a property’s appearance or when city employees see derelict lots, citations can be issued. They are mailed to the owners at addresses on record in the county assessor’s office. It is only when owners do not respond that the properties move to the city board for action.

Selectmen can then vote to have the properties cleared of debris or, in some cases, to demolish derelict structures on the lots. The city contracts an outside firm to do the work, usually at a cost of around $2,000 per parcel.

A lien is then placed on the property to cover the city’s cost.

Support for Hill’s program grew after a recent meeting at which board attorney Wayne Dowdy explained that it was feasible. Additional expenses would be incurred for the required legal filings but otherwise it will be possible for the city to take possession of the properties.

Walter Temple, McComb’s director of Zoning, Inspections and Permits, said that more than 100 properties are in limbo between the attachment of a lien and city ownership.

Hill’s ordinance passed Tuesday by a 5-1 vote, with Selectman Michael Cameron opposing.

The board will now review the list of properties that would qualify for the program and decide which to offer for sale.

Mayor Whitney Rawlings said it was not ideal to spend several thousand dollars to clean a property and put a lien on it, only to sell it for far less, “but if it means the neighborhood is improving and the grass is being cut, then I think it’s a good deal.”

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