By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
A sense of urgency surfaced during a recent discussion about the demolition of dilapidated structures that dot a number of Muskogee neighborhoods.
Ward III Councilor Randy Howard put the issue on the front burner after requesting documentation regarding the backlog of about 400 condemned structures awaiting demolition. Howard said the structures pose problems for owners of adjacent property and surrounding neighborhoods.
Mayor Bob Coburn said the problem extends beyond the neighborhoods where these structures are located. The problem, based upon feedback provided by a site coordinator who recently visited Muskogee, impacts the city’s overall image.
“I asked this site coordinator during a conversation what could we do better to improve our chances of attracting new business,” Coburn said Tuesday to city councilors during a Public Works Committee meeting. “She said, and this is pretty much her exact words, ‘Clean up your junky looking town.’”
Those comments Coburn shared sparked a lot of discussion among city councilors and department heads. There was consensus about the extent of the problem, but finding a resolution proved elusive primarily due to the lack of funding.
Information obtained from a records request shows the city has demolished 851 structures since launching its demolition program in June 1998 at a cost of almost $2.77 million. From 2007 to 2012, the city has demolished 324 structures at a cost of more than $1.23 million.
During fiscal year 2013, which began July 1, the demolition of 43 structures have been scheduled at a cost of nearly $178,000. Another 28 condemned structures have demolished by private owners at a cost of almost $161,811.
Coburn, responding to Howard’s insistence that a greater emphasis be placed on reducing the demolition backlog, said unless a new revenue stream is identified, other services would have to be sacrificed in order to accelerate demolition projects.
City Manager Greg Buckley suggested city councilors may want to consider the possibility of including the demolition program as part of the city’s next capital improvements program. That would involve the extension of a temporary sales tax set to expire in 2014.
Most of the temporary 0.325-cent sales tax that took effect in 2009 was targeted for sewer line improvements mandated by a consent order issued by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. The remainder was used to fund other projects like recreational trails.
Because the consent order has been amended to include other mandatory improvements to the city’s sanitary and stormwater sewer system, Buckley said voters will be asked to approve an extension of that tax. Part of the overall tax package could include funding dedicated to the demolition program.
Buckley said the city is “making some headway” toward reducing the number of dilapidated or derelict structures. That has come as a result of an annual appropriation of $100,000 coupled with a community development block grant for the same amount.
Planning Director Gary Garvin, in response to Ward IV Councilor Kenny Payne’s questions about what appears to be an inordinately large number of dilapidated structures in Muskogee, said the city’s demolition program is more aggressive “than any other city in Oklahoma.” Condemnation proceedings that began during the 1990s outpaced demolitions, resulting with the present backlog Garvin said has been whittled down during the past few years.
Since July 1, 36 structures have been condemned while 71 have been demolished by the city or private owners. Howard said he would like to find a way to streamline the process and “figure out how to catch up” before it gets moved “to the back burner.”
Map shows the intensity of demolition activity from 1998 to the present within the city.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.