Springfield City Councilwoman Phyllis Ferguson held city staff’s feet to the fire at the Tuesday luncheon regarding nuisance properties and abatement of those properties.
Ferguson looked at answers to questions from a previous lunch meeting on the budget concerning the spending on nuisance properties. The city’s budget to date showed over half a million dollars designated for abatement with a potential in the proposed 2021 budget for more money in that account.
“When we’re putting this amount of money into nuisance abatement or dangerous building knockdown and we’re having a half million…left over, can you give me an idea why we’re not spending this money when we have so many nuisance properties sitting out there?” Ferguson asked.
City manager Jason Gage explained that so far this year the city’s spent just over $680,000 on dealing with nuisance and dangerous structures which is ahead of spending in previous years.
“So we’ve actually picked up some speed with that,” Gage said.
Gage added there are certain restrictions placed on them by state law and limitations from the amount of staff. He said that he has been investigating how additional staff could enhance the process and which positions would be the best for the overall process of dealing with dangerous structures.
“If our economy doesn’t recover well, we could see an increase in these properties like we did in the recession,” Ferguson warned.
Ferguson asked if the money in the budget could be used for hiring additional staff. Gage said the city tries to avoid using one-time budget items for ongoing expenses like salaries but with contracts for the projects it might be better for the city to go with the additional employees.
Gage also noted that he and city staff are being more conservative with the budget in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak and that will slow down some processes.
Ferguson has been passionate during her time on Council about nuisance and dangerous properties, due to the higher number of those properties in her zone of the city.
“Many times these properties generate criminal activity and we must deal with that in addition to the physical problems that cause safety issues,” Ferguson told OI. “Look at the number of fires we have in Zone 1 vs other zones. [There are] health risks, reduce surrounding property values, and generally cause distress in a neighborhood.”