Osceola Banking On Beautification Proposal

Osceola Banking On Beautification Proposal
Shawn Chafin

A plan to give Osceola a facelift may have been born on Facebook.

At the next city council meeting in June, members will hear a third reading of a proposed city ordinance creating a land bank commission to support beautification and renovation projects. Specifically, supporters hope to restore or demolish vacant, condemned and neglected properties throughout town.

“Well, we’re trying to improve the looks of our town of course,” said Shawn Chafin, chairman of Osceola’s Community Improvement Task Force. “We want to improve where we live. So getting rid of these properties that are falling down, that have been abandoned, it will just help with the improvement of the looks of the city.”

Land banks in Little Rock and Jonesboro provided the inspiration for the land bank commission proposal, Chafin said, but she drew on her personal social media experience to underscore the need. A native and a 1973 graduate of Osceola High School, Chafin said fellow graduates had in the past expressed dismay over the city’s appearance in comments on Osceola-related Facebook pages.

When she shared a photo of the courthouse done up in Christmas lights, the post drew “likes” by the thousands and more than 70 shares by some of the same former residents.

“And I had all these comments that talked about how great that looked and that Osceola was doing something positive,” said Chafin, a State Farm insurance agent.

The task force hopes to acquire dilapidated properties through donations — grants are also possible — then renovate or demolish them and rebuild on the property. A restored property would then be sold and the money used for the next land bank project.

There is also the possibility of working with local jails to have inmates do some of the labor for community service hours.

“People who want to help with community service, they can come in and tear them down for us to save quite a bit of money,” Chafin said.

Located in Mississippi County, Osceola has a population of close to 7,000. Chafin said much smaller communities around the nation have made use of land banks.

The land bank commission, Chafin said, would put in place an organized, consistent effort to take care of vacant properties and save the city some upkeep money.

Street and Sanitation Department Manager Steve Choals, responding to a request from Chafin, said the city spent $135,000 on labor last year to care for dilapidated properties. However, expenses such as mowers, gas, oil, chemicals, weed eaters and trucks for hauling debris run the cost to an estimated $200,000.

A second reading of the ordinance on Monday led to a council member asking for an amendment excluding commercial properties and putting the focus solely on residential properties. The motion narrowly passed and the third reading will be heard and a vote taken in June.

Mayor Sally Wilson, a supporter of the land bank commission ordinance, said it would give “new life into those properties, into those streets, and into the neighborhoods where they are.”

Chafin said ordinance supporters had no problem with the commercial property amendment, and it was hoped the land bank’s success could inspire the inclusion of commercial properties sometime in the future.

In the meantime she hopes the next reading of the ordinance will clear up any questions and satisfy any lingering doubts.

“We’re not going to go in and tear down people’s houses that they’re living in,” Chafin said. “We’re for the abandoned houses that are falling down that people don’t want anymore that are condemned. That’s the kind of properties that we want to work with.”

While there is money to be saved and possibly made, as well as the potential to attract residents and businesses through the enhancements, Chafin said the primary goal is beautification.

“I’m looking forward to working on it,” she said. “I’ve lived here my entire life and I’m fanatic about my property being in mint condition.”