THOMASVILLE -- It was standing room only at the William T. Berry Building Thursday, as several Thomasville administrators met with more that 100 residents at an informal "meet and greet" set up by the city.

Officials from the planning, zoning, code enforcement and building inspection departments explained city policy and procedures and answered questions from the audience.

One of the main topics of the evening was contractor licensing, a process that will soon be done by the state. Those seeking residential, light commercial and general contracting licenses will be required to take courses and exams administered by the state.

Some contractors at the meeting worried that with the new process, they would be left without license -- and gainful employment. Ed Aquino, Thomasville's chief building official, said that those who are already licensed will be grandfathered in.

"If you're a residential contractor right now -- all you do is houses, and that's what your license says -- that's what you're going to be grandfathered in as," Aquino said. State-required certification will be similar to the that already acquired by current contractors, he said.

Thomasville residents who make their living doing repairs will soon be required to have a handyman license, administered by the city. A proposed revision to the Thomasville Municipal Code describes handymen as those who are limited to repair and maintenance of a single family dwelling.

Handyman licensing covers projects that cost less than $2,500 and does not include structural work. Handymen will not be allowed to do any work that requires a state license, including electrical, plumbing, mechanical or gas.

Several at the meeting complained that the city's permitting process -- particularly for building permits -- was too rigid and ineffective. The city's zoning process was also called into question at the meeting.

Aquino said that permitting and zoning rules are in place for a reason.

"We don't want to go out there and stir the pot and cause people problems. We want to protect the public," he said. There are currently three code enforcement officials who check for proper permits.

Aquino said that the penalties for doing any work without the proper permit would be a stop work order, a fine of double the permit fee, a citation and possibly an appearance in court.

Wayne Demoga, code enforcement officer for the city, talked about the grass and weed abatement process. Currently, if property is not properly maintained, the city contacts the owner, who has 10 days to respond to the complaint.

If the owner does not respond, the city abates the nuisance -- whether it be cutting the grass, moving old appliances and vehicles, or condemning an unkempt building -- at the owner's expense.

The city bids out abatement jobs among four companies, who do the work at cost and bill the city. The owner of the property is then responsible for reimbursing the city. So far this year, Demoga said the city has abated some 300 nuisances, with about 150 properties on the list.

"When I contact these property owners, I try to dissuade them from having us cut the grass, because it is an expensive process," Demoga said. "The thing is, when we get to these lots, underneath the weeds we're finding refrigerators, washers, dryers and old scrap metal. You name it, we find it."

One resident in attendance complained that for many years, he has been trying to get the road alongside his property paved, to no avail. He explained that after spending much of his own money to develop the area, the road has still not been paved.

Curtis Crocker, design and project engineer for the city, was familiar with the road in question. He said the resident, and others, may have to wait a few more years for paved roads due to hold-ups with the state Department of Transportation.

The city of Thomasville does not have the funds to pave all dirt roads at once, so city officials worked out a five-year plan with a former DOT commissioner, Crocker said.

"That DOT commissioner was fired or let go, and the new DOT commissioner said, 'We can't give you that much money,'" Crocker said. "So, the five-year plan is now a 10-year plan."

Streets included in the original plan are still on the list for paving. However, they may take longer to complete according to the new paving plan. Crocker also said that roads with 20 to 30 residences on them take priority over roads with only a few lots.

Many residents at the meeting took issue with the fact that site plans must be submitted any time Thomasville residents plan to make additions to their property. Some pointed out that the process was too expensive and seemed arbitrary.

Gwen Cooper-Williams, city zoning and code enforcement administrator, explained that the city requires site plans to ensure that residents aren't building on their neighbor's property by mistake. Site plans may be hand-drawn by the property owner, as long as all dimensions on them are correct, Williams said.

To contact reporter Brewer Turley, call (229) 226-2400, ext. 226.

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