The city of Blytheville is taking advantage of a Mississippi County pilot program aimed at addressing blight in the county.
On Wednesday, Blytheville Mayor James Sanders and Blytheville City Councilman R.L. Jones met with Mississippi County Judge John Alan Nelson at a demolition site in the 100 block of West Rose.
The city of Blytheville is tearing down the dilapidated house — and several others — while partnering with the county, which has discounted tipping fees to help cities remove eyesores.
According to Mayor Sanders, Blytheville has invested about $300,000 in the cleanup effort, including purchasing a $153,000 excavator for the purpose of removing the old houses that have become dens of criminal activity in neighborhoods.
Mississippi County is offering its assistance as well in the form of reducing landfill fees.
On Aug. 30, Judge Nelson penned a letter to local mayors offering the county’s assistance with such projects.
“We understand that in order to clean up Mississippi County, we all must work together,” Judge Nelson wrote. “We further understand that in order for cities to aggressively combat blight, budgets must be considered. With that being said, we are implementing a pilot program, aimed at addressing the blight in our communities. This program will offer a discount of 30 percent off tipping fees for approved, legally condemned, single-family residential structures, and under the ownership of any municipality, in Mississippi County. This 30 percent discount reflects the landfills’ ‘break even’ costs associated with labor and equipment and not on the opening and closing of cells. Taking into consideration the unknowns of this kind of project, Mississippi County will offer this discount for a total of 50 structures, county-wide, beginning September 1, 2019.”
Judge Nelson added that once 50 structures have been disposed of, the county will assess the program and determine how to move forward.
He pointed out allegations that previous landfill financial records are not accurate makes it difficult to determine the break-even costs.
“We are aware that we are out on a limb, and speculating on the ‘break-even’ costs,” Judge Nelson wrote. “We are in constant review of the revenues and expenditures, however at this point, we cannot document whether or not our landfill today is solvent based on the revenues received for the tipping fees we currently have in place. Perseverance is the answer to getting this challenge resolved and the landfill back on its feet, and we have committed to this. In spite of these difficult and time-consuming hurdles, the future of our landfill is bright and we will overcome this task and ask for your patience as we rebuild the financial strength and viability of this invaluable department.”
He added, “...we walk lockstep with our communities, in raising the quality of life for every person who calls Mississippi County their home.”
Mayor Sanders thanked Judge Nelson for lowering the tipping fees and allowing Blytheville to remove blight from its neighborhoods.
“If you get it cleaned up, someone who is thinking of moving here would be more apt to (move to Blytheville),” Judge Nelson told Mayor Sanders. “But when they come back and they see too much of this, they will say, ‘no, I’ll go somewhere else.’”
Mayor Sanders and Councilman Jones both called the blight a safety issue.
“It’s another component of helping our neighborhoods be safe,” Mayor Sanders said. “This is the symptoms of poverty.”
The city of Blytheville has been using its new track hoe to demolish dilapidated structures after they have been condemned, tested for asbestos and the asbestos removed.
Mayor Sanders noted the process is expensive, and saving on tipping fees allows the city to tear down more than it could have otherwise.
Blytheville is hosting an Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality class on identifying and removing asbestos on Oct. 14-17, with other towns invited to participate.
“The mayor is bringing in people from ADEQ who are going to educate not only the city workers, but the county workers too,” Judge Nelson said.