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|Vidalia firm on decision to close housing office|
A group of District 1 residents in Vidalia voiced opposition Tuesday night to the board of alderman over the decision to dissolve the Vidalia Office of Community Development headed by Windell Millicks.
But the mayor and aldermen stood firm on the decision stating the program will continue. The office was formed to handle rehabilitation of existing housing.
Mayor Hyram Copeland explained that the office was set up in June 2008 on a one-year trial basis with the understanding that if the office was not successful that it would be dissolved.
He said the city hired a Washington, D.C., consultant who evaluated the program and recommended the rehab office be closed. Copeland said the program has not been eliminated but duties have been redistributed within the city offices.
The mayor said the consultant stated the office was not meeting the primary objective to rehabilitate existing homes and cited communication issues between the office and city officials. She also pinpointed a multitude of other problems in a five-page document.
"We felt the program was not moving in the right direction and myself and the board were not satisfied," said Copeland. "This will save the town about $200,000 per year that can be spread out to do more houses."
A lengthy heated debate ensued with Millicks, Thaddeus Singleton and Police Juror Willie Dunbar criticizing the dissolution of the office.
"The program is not going to be compromised nor has it been eliminated," said Copeland. "We made a commitment to address substandard housing."
Currently there is $275,000 available in a rehabilitation grant for qualified homeowners.
Millicks said that grant was the success of the staff.
"When we were hired there were no clear objective for this program," he said. "It took us three to four months to get situated in an office environment."
"Don't say we didn't do our job. We didn't have a fair opportunity," said Millicks.
"You didn't do your job," said Copeland.
"I would expect you to say that, Copeland," responded Millicks.
"If I had it to do over again, I would make the same decision," said Copeland.
Copeland said the office did not accomplish the original objective set forth when the program was formed — to repair existing properties.
In other business, Sen. Neil Riser gave a brief summary of the recent legislative session noting that local money was secure.
"I want to point out that we've got to start looking at next year now," said Riser. "We want to focus on ideas for the future and we want to try and bring new industry here."
Along those lines, the board authorized the city to join the Louisiana Community Development Agency. The agency focuses on community development and comes with membership benefits.
City Manager Ken Walker requested authorization for the agency to help acquire funding for an unnamed firm that could provide 380 jobs for the community.
"We are negotiations now so that they can located in Vidalia," said Walker.
The board approved the following items:
- Retained the Bole Law Firm of Monroe as bond council for the municipal complex.
- Authorized the Boles Law Firm to go before the bond commission in August as the first step in seeking grant funding for the city's proposed municipal complex.
- Pre-filed an ordinance amending the current statute on abandoned vehicles that includes automobiles in alleys and curbs. The ordinance also ups the fine to the state maximum of $500.
- Advertisement for bids for new equipment including a garbage truck, street sweeper and bucket truck.
- Authorized the sale of surplus equipment, which includes 10 vehicles that are mostly non-operational.
- Sign application, Riverfront Royale Salon and Spa, 102 Front St.
- Sign application, Aaron's, 4253 Carter St.
- Occupational license, Cash in a Dash, 207 Carter St.
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