There was a day, not that long ago, when what George Irby proposed at the Monday Lowndes County Board of Supervisors’ meeting would have been an exercise in futility.
Irby, in his role as Columbus’ interim city planning and community development director, appeared before the supervisors at their Monday morning asking for financial support to address blight conditions in the city.
In February, Irby asked the city council to devote $1 million — roughly 20 percent of city’s ARPA funds — to address blight, an approved use of the funds. Although substantial, the $1 million will not cover the full cost of the program, which would buy dilapidated property from the owners, clean them up and resell them to developers for new housing/commercial buildings.
On Monday, Irby asked supervisors to devote $500,000 to $1 million for the program, which would represent between 4.5 and 9 percent of the county’s $11.2 million in ARPA funds.
While the board took no action on Irby’s request Monday, it was clear the supervisors are open to partnering with the city on the blight project, although it may not be at the funding level Irby requested.
District 1 supervisors Harry Sanders suggested a more appropriate contribution would be $300,000.
That number is obviously not set in stone, but it’s a sign that the county and city are again on negotiating terms at least, something that probably could not have been said as recently as 18 months ago.
A change in leadership in both the city and county have created a more cooperative environment. First, Trip Hairston replaced Sanders as board of supervisors president in October 2021, then in July Keith Gaskin replaced Robert Smith as mayor.
Anyone familiar with city/county relations prior to those changes can recall the epic clashes between Sanders and Smith, whose forceful presences often dominated policy in their respective governments.
In 2017, the rancor between two reached critical mass as the county opted out of the joint parks and recreation department to form its own parks department. Bitter disputes over joint board appointments and the 2-percent restaurant tax followed. By then, there was no relationship to speak of.
But the change in leadership signaled a thawing in the city/county relations. Soon after Gaskin was elected, supervisors agreed to help the city’s public works department, which had fallen behind in debris removal. It was not a big commitment from the county, but symbolically it signaled that the supervisors understand they have a vested interest in the city’s well-being.
We believe collaborating on blight would move from symbolic to tangible and perhaps open the door for future cooperation.
District 5 supervisor Leroy Brooks suggested that city and county officials meet next week to further discuss ways the two entities might combine APRA funds on blight as well as exploring other opportunities.
We can’t speculate the result of that meeting, but we continue to be encouraged that the city and county continue to make strides to repair their relationship, something that benefits county and city residents alike.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.