The City Commission of Arkansas City voted 5-0 on Sept. 20 to schedule a special town hall meeting to discuss beautification and code enforcement.

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 6 at the Arkansas City Senior Citizens Center, 320 South A St. The City Commission and the Beautification and Tree Advisory Board both will be in attendance.

The goal of the meeting is to listen to private citizens on how best to help to jump-start efforts to clean up and beautify properties before they have to be cited and ultimately condemned.

City Manager Nick Hernandez’s goal is to reduce tax dollars spent on the demolition of buildings by allocating smaller amounts on a case-by-case basis to beautify a larger number of properties by preventative maintenance through citizen initiatives, in order to prevent dilapidation.

Part of the meeting will be to educate the public about these efforts and the code enforcement process. The rest will consist of an open dialogue with interested individuals and nonprofit organizations.

A recently approved charter ordinance that goes into effect at the end of the month will allow code enforcement officials to issues notices to appear in municipal court. But that is a method of last resort.

“Issuing a ticket and ultimately abating the property ourselves is the last thing we want to do, as it typically does not address the underlying issue for how the property got in that condition,” Hernandez said.

“Ark City is a beautiful community and some homeowners just need a helping hand,” he added.

“We really need to encourage neighborhoods — churches, youth groups, whatever it may be — to try to identify areas where they can clean up. Maybe it’s cleaning yards out for an elderly or disabled citizen, painting a house, or trimming trees. Every little bit helps.”

Fall Cleanup Week will be Oct. 10-14, the week after the town hall meeting. It is midway between the Last Run Car Show and the Arkalalah Festival, and city officials hope to get a lot of positive work done in that short period of time prior to the annual fall festival.

Hernandez described a model in which the city, under the direction and recommendation of the Beautification and Tree Advisory Board, could award groups with micro-grants to perform proposed work.

“Maybe we pay for paint or paintbrushes,” he said. “Maybe we haul off the trash for the volunteers.

“We want to try to encourage those local groups to provide assistance through voluntary work, rather than us just going out and ticketing the property owner right away, which rarely solves the problem.”

He also suggested the idea of the city purchasing several small mowers and loaning them out.

Hernandez said the advantage of relying on neighborhood groups is that they are familiar with their neighbors — they know who really needs the help and who doesn’t need it.

“(Citizens) come to us and want us to do something,” said Mayor Duane Oestmann. “I think it’s a good idea to get neighborhoods to get involved with it. I think that does more good than what we do.”

City officials have had preliminary discussion with representatives some local organizations, but an open dialogue is desired at the meeting with all interested groups to maximize feedback and cooperation.

Representatives of ACES, Angels in the Attic, Boy Scouts Troop 328, CAAT, Church of the Nazarene, Cowley County Community Corrections, Cowley County District Court, Kiwanis Club, Lions Club, Optimists, Power of the Purse, Rotary Club, South Central Kansas Area Agency on Aging, Soroptimists and Youth Services are expected to be in attendance.

Any individual or group interested in being a part of this beautification effort is encouraged to attend the town hall meeting and join the discussion.

The public also is welcome to attend the information portion of the meeting.

Citizens may watch a replay of the Sept. 20 City Commission meeting at youtu.be/uWsR9lsg1HM.

This information was provided by City of Arkansas City Public Information Officer and Special Projects Coordinator Andrew Lawson.