The focus of much of the Parsons City Commission meeting on Monday evening was on dilapidated, abandoned homes.

The commission heard from two Parsons residents about substandard housing during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Angela Johnson first spoke to the commission about homes around her parents’ house at 2519 Gabriel. Johnson said her parents have a panoramic view around their property of run-down houses.

“It’s horrific,” she said.

Kenneth and Diane Johnson have kept their home in good shape and have made updates over the years, Angela Johnson said, and they have bought other nearby properties and demolished the homes there in an effort to keep their surroundings pleasant and their home value up.

Their efforts, however, have been to no avail as more homes become abandoned. Now, many of those houses have become a haven for pests such as skunks and opossums, Johnson said, as well as vagrants. There is a foul odor coming from one home, and Johnson’s father said some of the homes have black mold.

“Those are really huge hazardous problems,” Johnson said.

Johnson showed photos of the homes to commissioners but urged them to drive by and see them for themselves because the houses look worse in person.

“It’s extremely sad,” she said.

Johnson said the city needs to think outside of the box to create solutions to the widespread problem of abandoned homes. The city has so many of such properties now that it can’t afford to demolish enough each year to keep up with the demand. She suggested taking such steps as allowing heavy equipment students practice by tearing down homes or letting people scrap the houses.

Mayor Tom Shaw said he recently learned that Joplin was having similar problems. Joplin decided to offer incentives for builders to tear down dilapidated houses and rebuild affordable homes in their place, Shaw said. He wondered if Parsons could use some federal funding to do the same.

City Manager Debbie Lamb said that the next round of coronavirus relief funding to cities possibly will include some opportunities to pay for infrastructure, but she hasn’t heard if housing would be eligible. The city is looking into Community Development Block Grants to step up its demolition efforts, she said.

“It’s not going quickly, but we are exploring every avenue,” Lamb said.

The city staff has done a lot of brainstorming, but there are just so many homes that are beyond repair and that need to be torn down.

“It’s everywhere,” Lamb said.

Shaw said he has noticed that the problem is particularly bad near the Johnsons’ home, which is also located near the Parsons State Hospital and Training Center.

While Johnson wants the city to demolish more houses, Paul Marks spoke to the commission about trying to save one.

Marks is interested in buying a home at 2900 Crawford that the city has red-tagged. That means the city has either deemed the house to be too dangerous to occupy or that there are no utilities hooked up to the house.

Marks said he has the financing in place to buy the home and wants to work on it, but he claimed that a police officer warned him to quit going on the property. Marks said the owner of the home died a few years ago, and the daughter he spoke to about it wants nothing to do with it. There are back taxes owed on it, so it likely will end up at a sheriff’s sale if Marks doesn’t buy it.

City Attorney Ross Albertini said Marks would have to own the house before he can work on it. Marks argued that he needs to make repairs before buying the home, but Commissioner Kevin Cruse said that’s just not possible.

“We can’t jump through hoops if we don’t have a hoop to jump through,” Cruse said.

Cruse said even if Marks has permission to be on the property, he is not allowed to repair the home.

Lamb said if the owner of a property that is red-tagged wants to repair the home, that is allowable. She said the city tags some homes so that the police have the right to go into them and evict vagrants.

In other business, the commissioners:

— Heard that city residents can drop off unwanted items and junk at the trash transfer station and the adjacent former city landfill on May 1 and May 8.

— Approved a change order on a 2019 contract with Heckert Construction Co., Pittsburg. The change order officially adds work to the contract that already has been performed. The additional cost is $37,459.25. The commission also agreed to pay Heckert $121,873 for work on the contract. 

— Authorized payment of $4,386 to Verdunity Inc., Dallas, for work on a new city comprehensive plan.

— Approved payment of $3,250 to HDR Engineering Inc., Kansas City, Missouri, for work completed on the design of a wastewater treatment plant peak-flow pump station.

— Approved a bid for two new 2021 riding lawn mowers. The bids will be received Monday before the meeting.

— Approved payment of $146,075.16 to Heck & Wicker Construction Co., Parsons, for work performed from March 29 to Sunday on the North 16th Street improvement project that includes the widening of the 16th and Main Street intersection to allow new turn lanes.

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