ALBANY, Ga. -- Albany officials signaled Tuesday a possible shift in the city's philosophy behind demolishing vacant, blighted homes and commercial structures.
During budget discussions with the head of the city's Code Enforcement Department, City Attorney Nathan Davis and City Manager James Taylor told commissioners that plans are being discussed to potentially overhaul the way the city slowly rids Albany of blight.
"There is an idea out there that would involve a more targeted approach to the process," Davis said. "Maybe looking at groups of blighted homes or blocks and starting the abatement process, then foreclosing on them and trying to offer the chunks, for lack of a better word, to developers."
The idea would be that larger tracts of cleared land would be more appealing to developers than just a single lot here or there.
Taylor said the city can't afford to keep pouring money into the blight removal project without a better plan in place.
"If we're going to continue the demolition program, we need to have a plan, rather than bounce around the city taking down a house here and a house there," Taylor said. "We can't afford, as a city, to try and demolish all the blighted property within the city or we will be broke."
Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard, who has been one of the biggest advocates of the blight removal program and has pushed demolition of many structures in his East Albany ward, said that the city needs a better mechanism for collecting delinquent liens filed on demolished property.
"There has to be a better way to collect delinquent liens," Howard said. "We can't have funds keep going out with nothing coming in."
Despite the fact that the city has either demolished or is in the legal process of demolishing hundreds of vacant, blighted homes and structures, it has rarely recovered the liens placed on the property owners.
"We have to find a way to hold these property owners accountable rather than the onus be on the city," Taylor said.
Currently, Code Enforcement has an annual demolition budget of $150,000 and, despite the fact that the department uses the city's public works department or the Albany Fire Department to demolish the property to help stretch the funding, the city still has to dip into a $500,000 demolition set-aside created by the commission in 2009.
Last year, the city spent $178,000 on court-ordered demolition projects. The cost to demolish a single house is typically between $3,000-$5,000.
Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff said that he understands the concern for the escalating costs, but said that one way or the other, the blighted properties are going to cost the city.
"I, too, am concerned about the demo costs, but we've inherited decades worth of neglect and it's just something that is going to cost money to fix," Langstaff said.
Taylor said that his office is also working with the city's department of Community and Economic Development -- a division of the city that is fully funded through grants administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development -- to see if portions of the city's annual Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds can be used to help defray some of the costs of the demolition program.