Huffman told the council during its work session Thursday night while strides have been made in cleaning up downtown in recent years, rundown properties at key entrances to the city are still bringing down the look of the Cherokee County seat.
“There are some properties along there that have either been vacated or are just in such poor repair,” he said, adding the city’s one code enforcement officer has had a tough time getting property owners to take the concerns seriously.
Along Highway 140, just off Interstate 575, sit abandoned, decaying buildings, with boarded-up windows, exposed cinder block and high grass. Similar sights can be seen along on Highways 20 and 5 and other roads into the city, sights officials such as Huffman have grown disenchanted with.
To tackle such issues, Huffman said the city can do several things.
First, he said he’d like to see the council soon approve a potential new ordinance, included in Canton’s proposed update to the Unified Development Code. The ordinance aims to give the code enforcement department more authority to make property owners clean places up.
“It does an awful lot to give our code enforcement an opportunity to do the things they have been wanting to do for many years,” Huffman told his colleagues on the council. “The code enforcement can go in when it’s a safety issue. But this new code will give them even more powers.”
Huffman also wants to hire another code enforcement officer in fiscal 2015 to give the department a total of two employees. And for those officers to truly accomplish a crackdown on Canton’s blight, Huffman said he’d like to see more concrete contact information required on tax records so it is clear who can be reached locally when the city has issues with the condition of a property.
“Our officer in code enforcement spends a lot of time just doing paperwork and researching to find out who’s the owner, and finds out it might be a partnership located at an attorney’s office in downtown Atlanta,” Huffman explained. “That doesn’t give us much help.”
Councilman Glen Cummins, who is the acting city manager, agreed with Huffman steps need to be taken, primarily hiring the new code enforcement officer. Cummins said he planned on pursuing the issue during the budgeting process, which typically ramps up in July.
While Councilman John Rust said he saw Huffman’s point about blight, he clarified some of the properties in question may actually be just outside the city limits.
“There’s a lot of homes that are in the county that need to be addressed,” he said, adding Cherokee Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens has agreed to address the issue in the county. “People don’t understand — as much as we’d like to enforce code, there’s a lot of houses that don’t belong in the city of Canton.”
Mayor Gene Hobgood reminded the council Canton was recently honored by real estate blog Movoto as the No. 1 Georgia city to live in, based on a study of municipalities with more than 10,000 residents.
“I do totally agree we need to try to keep our city well-maintained,” he said. “But, you know, we are recognized as a great place to live.”
Huffman also mentioned Movoto’s nod to Canton, but he said, “If we have people starting to come up here and look at us, coming in the city, seeing some of the properties we have, they might have a little different opinion.”