Reinstating a Property Standards Board to be chaired by John King Sr. was among the items of discussion on Tuesday night's lengthy Helena-West Helena City Council agenda.
King reported that the Property Standards Board committee would work in collaboration with the city and code enforcement to remove or tear down dilapidated buildings for the betterment of the community.
King worked as the chairman of the property standards board for three years before the consolidation of Helena and West Helena at which time the board was shut down.
“We were able to tear down 300 houses. We used part-time firemen as code enforcement officers and part-time workers to work with the property owners,” commented King.
King explained that most of the problem today is finding the property owners. The city also has no funds to tear down the vacant buildings.
“In the past we were some permitted to burn down houses but following the strictest of protocol,” explained King.
King said that the left over debris or materials would fill up the landfill so they would initially seek contractors that would be willing to haul the remaining materials.
Letters would be sent out seeking the cooperation of the property owners King added that if they got no response from the owners, it would be turned over to the city for condemnation.
According to King, everything would be handled between the council and the property owners. The committee only requests the approval for the use of city stationary and a city bank account for receiving donations to cover nominal expenses.
“I drove around the town for three hours and I saw places that looked like a war zone,” said King. “I saw abandoned schools that are being picked apart and abandoned apartments that were being used by unsavory people.”
“There are roughly 2,000 houses total that have no water meters in Helena- West Helena,” reported King.
Councilman Jay Hollowell stressed that living in a home without water is against the law.
“All of you need to have the same agenda – save the city,” said King. “At the rate of this decline, in 10 years there will be no police, no fire department and no you.”
King suggested that each council member consider a volunteer that would represent their ward, working with the city at no cost to try and tear down the abandoned buildings and do something with the materials. King suggested that the committee would contact contractors in search of a means to get rid of the debris that would be left after the tearing down process.
Hollowell told the council that he has witnessed first hand what King's passion for the betterment of the city can do.
“You can tell that when he gets a group together they have the passion to get the job done and it's just phenomenal what they can do,” commented Hollowell.
Page 2 of 2 - The council asked what the difference would be between the responsibility of the committee and the code enforcers that currently have these responsibilities.
“It takes about $4,000 for the city to tear down the building and then you have the leg work and the problem of deposing the left over materials at which time the landfill will not have the capacity to hold all the scrap left over from the tear downs,” explained King.
King added that the purpose of the committee is to help speed up the process and provide extra hands for the hard work that lies ahead in order to create a safer and cleaner environment for the citizens.
This committee as headed by Mr. King will work tirelessly to get the job done,” said Hollowell.
King said the committee would seek donations and nominal funds for their efforts.
“A lot of the people want to do something but they just don't know what they can do,” continued King.
King assured the council that the committee will not take the property from the owners and they will make all the legal arrangements with the property owners.
“There is no charge for our services and the property owners are provided a way of disposing their property,” commented Kings.
A condemned house is contagious and eventually it will take other surrounding properties and create more condemned properties if we don't do something about this now,” concluded King.
The council took no action.