Thursday, November 20, 2008
Owners upset about cleanup
By SUE WATSON
After supervisors had a property cleaned up at the expense of the landowner, the owners came in to have their say about the matter at the meeting of the board November 10.
Edna Bernice Jones and her husband Leroy said if they had known the board had an order out for them to clear a deteriorating old store on their property on Highway 178 East, they would have cleaned it up themselves.
Instead, the Joneses alleged they never got the three certified letters and one uncertified letter from the zoning office and county attorney Kent Smith that the county had condemned the structure as a hazard.
The county advertised for someone to bid on the cleanup after not hearing from the Joneses, running a two-week ad where one bidder offered to push down and carry away the old store which was falling down for $5,000. The board rejected the first bid as too costly, readvertised for two weeks, and let the contract to a second bidder at a price of $2,500.
The cost of cleanup was to be applied to Edna Bernice Jones’ tax on her property. Her husband’s name is not on the tax roll for the property.
The couple said if they had known the county had condemned their property they would have cleaned it up themselves. They have the equipment to do the work and could have done it cheaper, Leroy Jones said.
He alleged he planned to put a roof on the old store and use the building for something.
He said he didn’t know why he or his wife had not been contacted.
Smith presented documentation of every action the board and zoning had taken in the matter to the Jones’ during the meeting.
He said the property was shown to belong to Bernice Jones as listed on the tax rolls; that three certified letters had been sent to her post office box but were not accepted and were returned to the county unopened. A fourth letter, uncertified, was also sent to her post office box, Smith said. The property was not restorable and was a health hazard, according to Smith and the zoning department.
“Out of deference to you, we have a piece of property that suffered a bad fire and caused complaints and concerns it needed cleaning up,” Smith said.
He showed Leroy Jones the ads that ran in the newspaper and the refused letters.
Supervisors and zoning director Conway Moore said they had exhausted all efforts to try and locate the owners, but as it turned out they knew them after it was too late.
The letters sent to Edna Bernice Jones used her middle name, Bernice, as listed on the tax rolls, but people knew her as Edna, she said. Leroy Jones also has had contact with the zoning office several times about unrelated matters, but zoning did not know the property belonged to his wife, according to Moore.
“I wish I had got a letter that was not certified,” said Leroy Jones.
He said he felt someone should have informed him personally about the cleanup order. That bothered him.
Leroy Jones held up a large brown envelope he said came to his mailbox by mistake, then raised the question that the certified letters could have been delivered to the wrong box as well.
Supervisor Willie Flemon also raised a letter in the air which he said had been delivered to his box in error. He agreed with Mr. Jones that sometimes mail does not get delivered to the correct address.
Those two statements and show of mail left an element of doubt about whether the Joneses had received the letters from the board attorney.
Edna Bernice Jones denied she had received the letters, either certified or not certified, but said she would have followed the cleanup order if she had known about it.
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett said he had looked for the owners of the property diligently but did not realize the two were married or the property belonged to Mrs. Jones.
“It bothered me that I had to pay someone else to do what I have the equipment to do myself,” Leroy Jones said.
Leaving the meeting in good manner, Leroy Jones quipped, “I had my say.”
In a separate interview, Moore said lots of people won’t accept the certified letters they mail out. But this is the first instance that a cleanup order has gone this far in the due process notification, she said.
At least two other properties have been cleaned up by the county road department in recent years and the fee assessed to the property owner's tax roll, Moore said.
In other business matters, the board of supervisors:
Stover also discussed necessary grant applications to complete the construction of the sewage project extension near Chickasaw Trails on Highway 72 near Cayce Road.
With insufficient funds to rebuild Mt. Carmel Road in the Chickasaw Trails area, Stover said IDA is considering making the road gravel for the short term.
Stover apprised the board of several other projects including the addition of an administration building on Quality Drive and concerns related to the leasing of the GEM building in Byhalia.
“Thank you for all you did to help make this election a success,” she said. “Everybody worked together and the precincts were totally accessible. It was the closest to being perfect as it could be. I just wanted to let you know how much the poll workers appreciated cleaning and painting of the buildings.”
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