About 300 blighted and derelict properties can be found in Walker County, according to Joe Legge, county public relations director.

In an effort to address citizen complaints about the hazards to safety and other concerns regarding these buildings, Commissioner Shannon Whitfield created an ordinance titled 0-01-19, which can be found in Chapter 12's Building and Building Construction section of Part II of the Walker County Code of Ordinances.

Ordinance 0-01-19 is also known as the "Blighted and Derelict Property" ordinance, or the more catchy-sounding "clean and lien initiative."

Blighted and derelict target list

While approximately 300 properties could be put on this new ordinance list to be addressed by the county's codes enforcement unit, Whitfield chose a more conservative approach given the county's manpower and budgetary limitations.

Whitfield chose to create a target list of 12 properties to address each year. He opted to make the worst-of-the-worst his top priority, and then move up the list accordingly, Legge said.

Due process

The process of addressing such issues with problem properties is that due diligence and legal means must be followed, which can involve considerable amounts of time. From start to finish, the entire process could take "the better part of a year to process," Legge said.

For example, Legge said, "Code Enforcement Director David Brown would first have to identify the structure of nuisance, conduct a visual inspection and then inform Commissioner Whitfield's office of his findings."

"The next step," Legge said, "would require Walker County Legal and Policy Director Matt Williamson to issue a formal complaint to the magistrate court."

This would be followed by the property owner being notified by the court of the legal complaint and an informal proceeding would be scheduled so that the property owner could appear in front of the judge within a set period of time to be heard on the matter.

Property owner's options

The property owner has the ability at that point to clean up his or her property or seek time to do so in the near future. A judge may give the property owner 60 days to address the issue and return to court.

If the homeowner chooses not to comply with the judge's decision, the judge can make a ruling against the homeowner, according to Legge.

Then, "this allows Commissioner Whitfield's office the authority to clean up the property and place a levy on it in order to recoup the county's cost in repairing and cleaning up the property before the homeowner can sell it, so taxpayers are not on the hook for the expense," Legge said.

Jan Morris is assistant editor for the Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.

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