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Funds Scarce to Fix Eyesores

Patrick Roberts, acting property maintenance manager with the city's Department of Community Development, says the halt on work for Jireh is a matter of priority and tightening purse strings.

Roberts, who also heads the city's Community Assisted Public Safety (CAPS) program, says the city has spent nearly $160,000 of the $185,000 it allocates for its annual contract with Jireh — with seven months left in the fiscal year.

The money, which comes from federal Community Development Block Grant funds, helps clean up private properties in which absentee owners can't be found or have been taken to court for code violations. The work is driven by citizen complaints. According to Roberts, the city's 19 environmental and housing inspectors responded to 11,000 citizen complaints in 2003.

In recent weeks, Blow says, the city has taken back at least 25 orders to clean up abandoned sites, like the one at Fourth and Hospital streets, where a former gas station has become a haven for illegal dumping.

Typically, Blow says, his men clean up about 20 properties a week, which costs the city anywhere from $150 to $5,000, depending on how much work and time it takes to cut the grass and remove debris.

In the summer there was a backlog, Roberts says, and Jireh was falling behind.

Blow blames the workload. "We went from 30 lots on our desk to 140," he says.

Roberts says he felt pressure from the "second floor" of City Hall to get out of the backlog, and he filed a complaint against Jireh with the city's contract procurement office. He also stipulated that cleanup jobs would have to be completed in 15 days or fewer.

Blow doubled the company's workforce from four to eight full-time employees and set up a "rapid response" crew and an "extended response" crew

Then on Oct. 28, the city stopped sending work to Jireh, claiming that money was running out.

Blow calls the system flawed and points out that his crews respond to some of the same private lots time and time again. And, he says, with cleanup work on hold, it won't take long for citizens to notice. "We're the weed-eaters," he says. "We're doing the dirty work that makes neighborhoods cleaner and safer."

Roberts agrees — to a point. "Jerry's right," he says. "There's a lot we won't get to." But he won't attempt to extract more money for more cleanups, he says. Compared with education and social issues, Roberts says, "cutting grass and picking up trash — it's a temporary fix." — Brandon Walters

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