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City's blight battle littered with bureaucracy

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BATON ROUGE - Blight has become a continuous conversation in the city, which seems to be caused by city bureaucracy.

At a meeting Tuesday, city officials learned there has been a long breakdown between an established blight court procedure and the city's response. Crews who should be assigned to clear blighted property after property owners neglect warnings by the city are not moving forward with such assignments. 

"At the end of the day there's this sort of gaping hole where there's not a lien or a judgment that's actually able to complete the process because the city does not actually go out and clean up these kinds of problems that would allow this process to continue," Councilwoman Tara Wicker said.

The process should allow for a complaint to be filed, investigated, taken to blight court, and the property owner should remedy the situation. If the property owner doesn't take care of the issue by a certain number of days, the city should clear the blight and fine the property owner.

But, the process isn't just slowed by city crews. Few people ever pay fines, an ongoing issue.

"We looked at a current list, and for several months, if not a year, there were two people that actually came in and paid their fines. That in turn prevents us to be able to have additional monies in the coffers to go out and actually have resources available to help clean up these problems," Wicker said.

"The city's actually supposed to go in and remedy that problem which in turn gives us the ability to charge that individual, that property owner, or whoever's responsible for us having to go out and actually clean up this property, and that's not happening," says Wicker.

Still, there are a lack of resources in the city department tasked with clearing blight.  

"Number one: it's a manpower issue. And number two: it's a resource issue. So, if we are understanding that blight is a significant indicator of crime, it also has a significant impact on economic development then our resources should also follow that problem," Wicker said.

The blight committee will refer ideas on updating city debris contracts to allow hired crews to clear blighted properties.

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