When people are invited to dinner or a party, the host makes sure everything is spick-and-span — a concept that municipalities seek to follow to attract people to town.
City Manager Tony Carson has taken a stance on the beautification of the city since his arrival in November. The city is working on downtown and Derby Street beautification, South 14th Street housing rehabilitation and projects in other areas. Carson said they will be ongoing projects. The city has organized volunteers to help with planting, weed removal, mowing and cleanup where needed.
Carson, in his long career in city and county government, has always stressed beautification.
“I think it just goes to the general overall pride in a community,” said Carson. “I think that’s very important.
“If we’re wanting to ask people to come to our community and to shop and visit, we need to make it appealing. I believe that the residents of the city are very proud of their community and we as a city have to be a leader in making sure the physical appearance of the city is what our residents want and expect. I think it permeates throughout — once we start making these changes and improvements, my experience is it continues on in the business community and the residential communities.”
It has been nine months since the city hired Building Inspections/Development Director John Lebegue to literally help clean up the town — a task that will not happen overnight, but one that is in progress, he said.
The city is now using its lawn crew to mow properties with grass higher than eight inches and remove litter and debris. The owner is charged for the hours worked and an administrative fee. Previously, the city contracted with private companies to do the work.
Citations are being issued for violations. There were 123 citations issued in May for tall grass and weeds, 49 in June and 59 in July. In May there were 18 junk and debris citations, 22 in June and 18 again in July. Citations were also issued for junk cars, property maintenance violations and much more.
Lebegue said he wants to be more aggressive in working with owners to rectify problems before citations have to be issued.
Currently, liens are often placed on properties for mowing and other work, which cannot be collected until the property is sold. That could take years and cost the city for legal fees. Lebegue said that will change.
The city Police Department participates in the Illinois Comptroller’s Office Local Debt Recovery System to collect past due fines at no charge to the city. Lebegue said next year he hopes to do the same with code enforcement. The fines would be collected from income tax refunds, lottery winnings and other sources.
There are several homes that the city is seeking to demolish. It has $120,000 to work with this year for demolition of unsafe or uninhabitable homes — $60,000 in the general fund budget and the same in Community Development Block Grant funding.
The city has to do an environmental study to use the CDBG funds. Lebegue said he will seek permission quickly from the homes’ owners to have an environmental inspection done for asbestos. He said he doesn’t want to get into a situation in which the city gives an owner a 30-day notice to make repairs, finds later that there is hazardous material inside and, “We miss our window to tear it down.”
Lebegue was the building and safety official for Lincoln from 2010 to 2016. In Lincoln, he said, he secured amendments to the city code to address dangerous buildings, foreclosed properties and vacant, abandoned and boarded structures to clean up blight and public safety hazards. The city streamlined the code enforcement process with the adoption of shorter correction timelines, increased the fine and penalty structure and installed more specific nuisance language. As a result, said Lebegue, 80 percent of violation cases were corrected within the seven-day limit, reducing court related cases.
“Now that I’ve been here a number of months, kind of gotten oriented with the city and some of the challenges we’re facing, in my opinion in the coming years you’ll start to see a real impact on some of the neighborhoods where we’ve had these problems,” said Lebegue. “Once you start identifying these properties and eliminating them, you will start seeing some improvements in our neighborhoods.”
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin