What is the buzzword for this campaign?

Published 11:58 pm Saturday, April 26, 2008

Normally, the political buzzword in triplicate just before an election is: jobs, jobs, jobs.

Apparently, the voters, and a few candidates, have realized that a single alderman or even the mayor cannot generally do much — at least not by himself or herself — to bring economic development to the area.

Their job should really be to work on making the community the best place to live and work first. Then the jobs will come as a result.

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But this year, the J-word being tossed about isn’t “jobs” but it might be “junky.”

Junky, dilapidated houses are words on the lips of almost every candidate for mayor and board of aldermen.

Not surprisingly, it’s not a new topic. Few people — regardless of race or economic background — would choose to live next to an abandoned, run down property. Given the choice, almost without fail, most people would choose to live in a tidy area.

Yet, Natchez has dozens and dozens of such properties.

Over the last several days, a few of us at the newspaper have been interviewing candidates, talking to them about the issues and asking them their plans if they were to be elected — or reelected for incumbents.

On the subject of dilapidated properties, we’ve already heard a menagerie of ideas — and we’re only about halfway through talking to the candidates.

One candidate wants to have the government lease the properties from the owners, then allow nearby neighbors to allow community vegetable gardens to be planted.

Another suggested that the properties be turned over to a private agency to refurbish them for new, low-income homebuyers.

Another candidate suggested something radical: what would happen if each person running for office decided to just adopt a property and take care of the issue? It’s an interesting idea. While the candidate was, jokingly, suggesting that each work to tear it down, imagine the volunteer power out there if citizens stepped forward and formed a committee to help the city enforce the laws.

All of those are novel ideas, and maybe a couple could work, but they’ll take some time to get off the ground.

How about we simply review our existing laws first. Let’s determine if the problem in cleaning up these eyesores is hindered by poor enforcement of the existing law or a truly flawed set of rules that must be followed.

Either way, a fix doesn’t seem that difficult. Natchez is a big enough city that this shouldn’t continue to be a problem.

A couple of years of working at it and this problem could be behind us.

If the existing regulations prove to be sound and the issue is one of manpower, then perhaps we can figure out a way to get additional manpower.

City elected officials and local tourism leaders are planning on asking voters to approve a $2 per bed tax on hotel rooms. The funds are earmarked for marketing the city, but could “marketing” be considered cleaning up the ugliest parts of town?

If our blighted housing laws prove to be sound and the problem is a lack of manpower to enforce the laws, why not dedicate $40,000 of the “marketing” money from the hotel tax and hire someone to focus on the problem.

Ugly, dilapidated housing makes our area look awful to visitors. And they only have to look at the burned out structures as they drive by.

Imagine what it’s like to have to live next door to it. It’s best described in triplicate: Bad, bad, bad.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.