The Pine Bluff Inspection and Zoning Department has spent its 2012 budget for demolishing condemned houses and is asking the City Council for more funding.

The Pine Bluff Inspection and Zoning Department has spent its 2012 budget for demolishing condemned houses and is asking the City Council for more funding.

Inspection and Zoning Department Director Robert Tucker said the department has spent about $93,000 demolishing condemned houses so far this year. Tucker is asking the City Council to allocate an additional $60,000 from undesignated funds to continue the work.

“My chief inspector has done a really good job of getting things done quickly this year, and we’ve just about run through our budget and we’d hate to sit idle for the rest of the year,” Tucker said, adding that the department has also been more aggressive about identifying structures that need to be condemned and getting them on the city’s list.

With a declining population and deteriorating housing stock, abandoned houses are a big issue facing Pine Bluff and are frequently a source of complaints from the public. But in the previous years, the city was forced to cut budgets rather than increase them and there were little to no funds left over in undesignated funds.

With the passage of the five-eighths-cent sales tax increase in February 2011, there are actually some undesignated funds in the city budget this year. Tucker said he has never requested this large an amount from the City Council, especially from undesignated funds, but he is hopeful that they will be willing to provide the extra funding.

“It would certainly be a boon for the community,” Tucker said. “We’ve got a mission, and that’s to clear some of the blight.”

Tucker brought his proposed budget adjustment before the City Council Development and Planning Committee on Tuesday. Committee Chairman George Stepps said he will be recommending approval of the budget adjustment when it comes before the full council at its Monday, June 4, meeting.

“We’re trying to remove as many of those houses as we can,” Stepps said, acknowledging it is a topic he frequently hears about from his constituents. “I’m going to recommend the appropriating be given to that department. It won’t get them all, but it will put a dent in the problem.”

The issue of tearing down condemned houses is an expensive and complicated one, made even slower by state laws that give the property owner many opportunities to prevent the demolition. Tucker agreed that, if approved, the $60,000 won’t solve the problem overnight.

To put it in perspective, Tucker said that the $93,000 budget so far this year has allowed them to tear down 35 houses. The number of structures on the city’s condemned list is 425.