Mayor addresses issues at League of Women voters meet

By BUSTER WOLFE,

Demolition costs for cleaning up the tornado-damaged Mount Carmel Baptist Church in downtown Hattiesburg could run as much as $450,000, Mayor Toby Barker told the League of Women Voters Monday night.

The church, which has been damaged since a 2013 tornado pushed through the Hub City, is considered a safety hazard and Main Street has been blocked to traffic around the crumbling structure. During a special-called meeting Friday, Hattiesburg City Council voted 4-1 to accept bids for the demolition that will be opened in late August.

A public hearing is scheduled on Aug. 15 to hear input on the status of the building.

Barker said the church is a safety issue.

“If you weigh that decision (to demolish the building), we are going to try to make that closure as clean as possible,” he said. “We’re not tearing it down because it’s an eyesore. We’re having that conversation about tearing that building down because of public safety. We’ve started taking bids that were advertised for the first time this weekend. We’ll advertise it one more time.”

Three roads around the church, which is located at 1101 Main St., are closed because of the building’s condition. Main Street is closed between East Fifth and East Sixth streets. Detour signs have been posted to assist drivers.

Barker answered several questions from audience members about local and state issues, including city infrastructure problems and the go-cup ordinance. Among his responses were:

• The city is planning upcoming budget hearings. “We continue to look at our budget and other situations and because of the tornado and other things, our cash flow is under what it needs to be. …We need to be at $4 million until February or March when ad valorem taxes come in.”

• The City Council should look closely at the go-cup ordinance and he expects it to be taken up in the next few meetings.

• Infrastructure – “A lot of water and sewer projects need to happen in August.”

• Mentoring challenge – Barker wants to get adults in the communities helping students. “We must make sure that the program that we do choose is based on some robust literature. We hope to unveil that program in September or October. We are going to ask city residents to step up.”

• Barker said he hopes to have neighborhood meetings throughout the city completed in six months.

• Barker agreed with former Mayor Johnny DuPree’s decision not to fly the state flag at city buildings. “I think we should have a flag that unifies all of us.”

• Barker also said he did not believe that the past city election was influenced by Russian tampering.