Hancock County Cracking Down On Blighted, Abandoned Properties

Hancock County supervisors have a message for property owners who haven't cleaned up since Katrina - Clean up or pay up!

Later this month, the county will begin the process that will give them the authority to remove debris and send the bill to property owners.

Wayne and Melissa Sebring are rebuilding their home and lives in Hancock County. But some of the other property in their neighborhood is all but abandoned.

"There's a lot of boats still out in yards, things that children can get into like refrigerators. It just needs to be picked up."

It's not just about looks. Blighted, abandoned and hazardous property remains all over the county. Many homes look as if they haven't been touched since Katrina.

"They pose a health and safety hazard and a nuisance to the community," county attorney Ronnie Artigues said.

Artigues said letters have already gone out to property owners who have not signed right of entry forms, asking them to appear at a December 18th hearing.

"There are approximately 45 that have been identified and we have the first round of hearings on nuisance abatement on these properties," Artigues said.

But, he admitted, there's no way to know if the property owners got the letters.

Those who are back and rebuilding believe that's the heart of the problem.

The Sebrings said, "A lot of houses, we don't know where the people are. They use to be our neighbors, but a lot of them are gone and we haven't heard from them or seen from them. So we don't know if they are going to sell the property, but now they are getting over grown with debris and it just doesn't look good."

There is still time for property owners to get government help clearing their land, but they must sign a Right of Entry form. Those who don't could eventually be saddled with the bill.

"There is a potential that if the property owner fails to get it cleaned and we have to go through this process, the cost of this clean-up could be asserted as a lien on this property," Artigues said.

People like Melissa Sebring just want their neighborhood to look like home again.

"It's time. It's time to get the place cleaned up let it start looking like our little city again, that we were so proud of," Sebring said.

County leaders say there are more than 200 properties scattered throughout Hancock County where property owners have not signed ROE forms. You can fill one out at the County Government Complex on Longfellow Road during normal business hours.

by Al Showers