City steps up efforts to clean up

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- Social Circle is stepping up efforts to clean up abandoned buildings and homes by putting a renewed focus on code enforcement.

Public Safety Director Tom Fox presented to the City Council last week a three-pronged approach to the new effort.

"We have to break it into parts to have an effective code enforcement program," he told the council. "People who live here don't want to see their neighbor with junk cars, high grass that could attract rodents, or don't want to see a house that's deteriorating down the street that could attract vagrants or is just a hazard to children in the area. That is a negative that we want to address through code enforcement."

Fox said a strong code enforcement program would make the city safer and give it a more positive image. First, he said, it will preserve the integrity of the properties in the historic district. That will lead to increased economic development.

"Code enforcement has a greater impact than just cleaning up," Fox said. "If people drive through the city and they like what see, they are more likely to establish a business or to live here."

And then there's the benefit of making the community safer, he said. Fox said the popular "broken windows theory" has been proven true time and again.

"Just fixing one broken window on the street makes a difference. If you see a lot of things broken in an area, people adopt a mentality that they just don't care," he said.

But, cleaning up an area can cause a domino effect where residents and community members will raise their standards.

Fox then outlined how the Public Safety Department, in cooperation with Better Hometown and the city's Historic Preservation Committee, plans to tackle code violations. He said he envisions code enforcement will require three phases: notifying the public; contacting violators; and taking formal enforcement action.

Fox said Social Circle property owners will be notified of the new program through community newsletters, notices placed in utility bills, city Web sites, local cleanup days, direct contact with citizens and P.A.C.T. meetings.

P.A.C.T. -- Police and Citizens Together -- is a new initiative established by the Public Safety Department to meet with members of the community and hear their concerns. Fox said the meetings will be held at 7 p.m. the third Monday of each month.

Fox said his goal when contacting violators will be "mainly in a non-confrontational way."

"Our goal is compliance and not to force someone to come to court and have a judge order they repair their house or have it demolished," he said. "Rather, we'd like to work with people and encourage voluntary compliance."

He said simply bringing unsightly or unsafe conditions to the attention of some property owners may be all it takes to start the clean-up efforts. Furthermore, Fox said, others may not have the resources to make needed repairs. Some may not be able to afford the gas to cut the grass. He said the city will look at all its resources and may try to recruit volunteers to help those in need.

"We want to work with the people, we want voluntary compliance. This is not an effort to write tickets or raise revenue; it's a way to get people to follow the ordinance," he said.

When all else fails, the city will rely on local ordinances and state laws regulating local governments' responsibilities to maintain the health and cleanliness of cities.

Fox then showed through a PowerPoint presentation a number of residential and commercial properties in Social Circle that need immediate attention. Some would require demolition and others would need basic maintenance, such as removing junk cars or mowing the grass.

For example, a home at 535 N. Cherokee is likely "beyond repair," Fox said. He said a tree fell on the back of the house and it would probably not be cost effective to repair the structure. Another home at 1082 North Cherokee has tires and trash stacked around it and what may be an abandoned vehicle. Fox said cleaning that up may be the extent of what is needed.

"We have a lot of minor problems that we can start addressing and have a visual improvement very soon," Fox said. "It could take three to six months or more to go through the demolition process on others, but minor codes, junk, those can be addressed quickly."

In related action, the City Council approved the appointments of Tom Brown, Debbie Conner Smith, Steve Williams and Edith Forman to the Historic Preservation Commission, which will be working closely with Better Hometown in their collective efforts.