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Albany commissioners want more done to address 'eyesores'

ALBANY – Albany city commissioners talked garbage at their Tuesday-morning meeting, but it was not the type of garbage we’re used to hearing from politicians on television.

Commissioners brought up the topics of dilapidated houses and the illegal dumping of garbage toward the end of the Tuesday session.

Ward III Commissioner B.J. Fletcher said it hit home the other day when a landlord received a $10 fine in a court case.

“My issue is two weeks ago, when I found out a case we took to court,” she said during an interview following the meeting. “When the judges are letting them go, giving them extensions, $10 fines, $100 fines — I think it’s time we put them on notice. We need to do something about the blighted properties.”

Fletcher, who also owns rental properties, said it appears that property owners are dumping possessions of evicted tenants in alleys and other places instead of disposing of them properly.

Such dumping has become an issue, one she also brought up at a July meeting.

The city offers a service to sort and haul away such debris at a cost, she said, and landlords should take advantage. There also are “free days” when the fee is waived.

“We need to do a better job of holding the landlords accountable,” she said.

Fletcher also encouraged the public to report, and if possible take pictures, when they see someone illegally dumping materials.

Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard said he has been told there are some 400 dilapidated properties that are candidates for demolition due to being eyesores and uninhabitable in their current condition.

The cases are time-consuming, City Attorney Nathan Davis told commissioners.

“We’re only able to handle eight to 10 of these cases a month,” he said. “They’re so labor intensive. That’s the problem. (And) the court can grant the (owner) opportunity to bring them up to code.”

Howard also brought up the issue of houses without address numbers posted where they are visible. When houses don’t have numbers to identify them it means first responders can’t find them while answering a call.

In other business, the commission:

♦ Approved allowing a vote in November on package sales of alcohol on Sunday and a separate proposal that would allow restaurants and other businesses that meet current requirements to begin selling alcoholic beverages at 11 a.m. instead of 12:30 p.m. on Sundays;

♦ Delayed a vote on a recommendation to increase the amount for which formal bids are required for services and materials and services provided to the city from $40,000 to $100,000;

♦ Approved a roofing repair contract totaling $555,000 with L.E. Schwartz & Son, and $278,000 with Roof Services of Albany;

♦ Accepted a grant of $2.75 million from the Federal Aviation Administration and a second totaling $143,206 from the Georgia Department of Transportation for airport taxiway and apron renovations;

♦ Reappointed Dr. Steve Whatley to another two-year term on the Animal Control Board; and

♦ Approved alcohol licenses for beer and wine consumption at Twisted Timber, 2302 N. Slappey Blvd., and My Pie, 2700 Dawson Road.

Alan Mauldin / Staff Photo: Alan Mauldin  

Daniel Whigham spent time with his grandson, 9-month-old Gevon Clark, on Tuesday outside the Dougherty County School System offices in downtown Albany while his wife took care of business inside.

Dougherty officials look at litter battle, recreation expansion
Transfer of C.W. Heath Park from city of Albany to Dougherty County ownership under consideration

ALBANY — Putting teeth behind the enforcement of litter laws and expanding recreational opportunities alongside the city of Albany are among the issues the Dougherty County Commission has on the table.

District 3 Commissioner Clinton Johnson said discussions are underway on what to do at certain recreational locations. He said this comes following a public outcry for expanded opportunities, especially for children.

For instance, there is consideration on the table to transfer C.W. Heath Park from city to county property.

“In which case, the county would take over ownership,” Johnson said.

The commissioner said a presentation is being put together to present to city officials. Other project being discussed are the addition of a multipurpose room at the J.C. Odom Fitness and Wellness Center, meeting space at the Carver Gym facility, improvements to tennis facilities and a water park.

For the water park, Johnson said, a feasibility study would be done. If the data lines up in favor of such a project, the county would partner either with the city or another entity.

“It would be similar to what is at Wild Adventures,” he said. “We would partner with Chehaw or another agency.

“(We are also looking at) former Brownfield areas and building a baseball complex.”

Johnson said the goal is for city officials to know they do have a partner in Dougherty County.

“Recreation is a part of a good quality of life,” he said.

The commissioner said a draft would be pulled together and sent to city officials. Among the proposed items the public can expect some level of action on in the next few weeks is the possible transfer of C.W. Heath Park and the water park study.

Johnson said that should the transfer of Heath Park occur, the county would make plans to add a shelter and pavilion.

On the issue of litter, Johnson said the message is education and enforcement. A presentation promoting a clean Dougherty County is being taken into schools, while more teeth are expected to be put into the litter policy.

“We want to keep the fines high to (bring home the message) that we don’t tolerate litter at all,” he said. “We are going to come down hard.”

Trucks with insecure trash loads and illegal dump sites are the biggest obstacles in the Dougherty County area. Fines are already up to $1,000, but there is a problem in getting litter cases to court.

The best way to fight the problem, Johnson said, is for citizens to get involved by calling 311, getting a tag number and coming to court.

“This is the only way we will stop litter and take it very seriously,” he said. “(We will) attack litter head on.”

SOWEGA Rising tackles troubling community issues

ALBANY – It’s no secret that Albany suffers from the ills of poverty, poor housing and gangs. But an organization formed in March is hoping to tackle those and other crises facing the city.

On Tuesday, officials with SOWEGA Rising addressed the Albany City Commission to discuss the organization’s mission and to seek support from the city to help make its efforts a reality.

“There’s a housing crisis,” organization board member Dedrick Thomas told commissioners. “Conditions are deplorable, no insulation, faulty wiring (which) leads to high utility bills.

“We know that there are no grocery stores in south Albany.”

Because of that last bit of reality, residents who don’t have time or transportation to go to supermarkets resort to dollar stores, where the choices usually consist of processed foods high in sugar content, Thomas said. This leads to children who are fidgety at school.

“(And) when we turn them loose, there’s somebody waiting to get them – the gangs,” Thomas said.

Because east and south Albany exist in a “food desert” those processed and sugary foods contribute to diabetes in a significant number of the community, Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard said.

“They’ve said 85 percent of those that are on dialysis are people of color,” he said.

In addition to those issues, some others SOWEGA Rising personnel said they’d like to address include public transportation, employment, art and culture, civic engagement and recreation.

Planned initiatives include economic injustice, food insecurity, criminal justice reform, cultural and historical preservation, and rural health.

“Today, we wanted to focus on what some of the crisis issues are,” Sherrell Byrd, co-chairman of SOWEGA Rising, told reporters after the commission meeting. “We have a huge number of people in south Albany who do not have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Utilities is a critical issue.”

More than half of residents in the area are renters, and much of the housing is energy-inefficient, Byrd said.

The organization covers 13 other counties in addition to Dougherty County, but Albany is the organization’s initial focus area.

“We’re using Albany as our model,” Byrd said. “We have several solutions we want to bring to our communities.”

Jordyn E. 

Jordyn E., International Studies Elementary School