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Questions at NSP town hall on demolishing blight
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Rockdale's NSP Coordinator Tanisha Lanier, Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness, Commission Chairman Richard Oden - photo by Martin Rand, III

A town hall focused on Rockdale County's Neighborhood Stabilization Program proved very informative for the citizens who showed up Thursday night.

About 20 people attended the town hall, hosted by Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness, to get some clarity about whether the county should alter the current structure of its federally funded NSP program to include demolishing blighted homes and rebuilding new homes.

Under the current format, the county can only use NSP funds to purchase, renovate and repopulate foreclosed homes.

Rockdale NSP Coordinator Tanesha Lanier began the meeting by explaining what the NSP is and some of the differences between the two formats. The two main concerns of the audience was which format was more cost effective and which format would take less time to complete from start to finish.

"With the demolition process you're talking about establishing a whole different procedure," said Lanier to the group. "I would say it would add on several months to the process."

She then stated by using NSP funds to demolish and rebuild a home, it could prove more costly in the end compared to the current format.

"Every option has pros and cons," said Lanier. "I would have to defer to (the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners) to make that determination."

Chairman Richard Oden joined Van Ness at the town hall. Oden seemed to be sticking with his previously made comments in relation to the issue by stating the Planning and Development Department would be asking for an additional $150,000 in the next budget cycle to demolish blighted homes versus using NSP funds to complete such as a task.

If the county decided to move forward with using NSP funds for the proposed tasks, it would have to resubmit its application for NSP funds with Georgia's Department of Community Affairs which will delay the county from dealing with the 32 properties deemed NSP eligible in Rockdale, said Oden.

"I don't want you to forget that part," he said. "Now we're in an election year. I can tell you, this could be 2015, second, (or) third quarter, before we can get them to listen to us."

Van Ness stood by her proposal for the use of the funds and shortly before the meeting concluded, she held an informal poll in which she asked the guest appearing to raise their hand if they supported her idea.

More than half of the attendees sided with Van Ness.

"This is a very complex issue as you can see," said Van Ness. "We already have one (NSP) established, but I can't say it's the fastest because we've been doing it for five years. With this, it would just give us the flexibility to expand our scope. It's totally a viable option."

The audience also inquired about what code enforcement was doing to make the homeowners of these properties pay for their blighted houses.

Planning and Development Director Marshall Walker explained that at least three or four owners they contacted paid to have the house demolished. Other owners have been more elusive and have not helped.

But, even though the homes may be "eye-sores" the county has to allow the legalities of the situation to play out because the property owners have rights as well, Walker said.

Commissioner Oz Nesbitt, Post 1, was absent from the meeting. He's publically stated at previous board of commissioner meetings that he's strongly against using NSP money to demolish buildings and instead would rather use county money from the Planning and Development Department.

The town hall lasted from 6 to 7:30 p.m.