TUPELO - Lee County deputies removed numerous tents and loads of trash from two properties in the Auburn community Monday morning.
According to Sheriff Jim Johnson, up to two dozen people have been illegally camped on about 5 acres of land near the intersection of county roads 931 and 1438.
"We've been dealing with this for over a year," Johnson said. "They don't have permission to be on this land. They have terrorized the community. We have caught several with meth. This is an eyesore to the community."
Behind an abandoned single-wide trailer just north of BAM Fitness, officials found two tents and garbage and debris strewn all over. More camp sites were found deeper in the heavily wooded property. Just inside the tree line, deputies found a host of items believed to have been stolen from neighboring properties. Officials feel at least 20 people have lived on the properties over the last six months.
Residents in the area have been complaining about people knocking on doors late at night and things being stolen. There have been reports of someone going through cars at a nearby church during the Sunday service. Some of the individuals have hung around the Chevron store across the street while on drugs, scaring away customers.
"We have made several arrests in this area over the last few months and it got to a point today where we could come and take action and remove the tents from this property," Johnson said. "This is not an eviction. We will do what we can to find placement for these people."
While the vagrants have been causing problems for many in the community, they haven't bothered June Hale, who lives around the corner. He let it be known that he was armed and not afraid to shoot.
"There must be 20 of them," he said. "They come by my place all the time, but they stay on the road. They're easy to spot, they carry everything they got on their back."
Deputies separated items believed to be stolen — tools, lights, extension cords, a wheelbarrow and a power washer — with the hopes of returning them to the rightful owners. The other items — including fans, bedding, furniture, clothing, garbage and broken glass — were loaded into a county dump truck and hauled away.
Since officials had spoken with the owners of the two parcels, they were able to address the vagrants, junk and garbage on those lots. They were not able to do anything with the adjoining property that has its own collection of scrap, junk and garbage.
Lee County First District Supervisor Phil Morgan, who was born a half-mile down the road from the tent city, said he hopes to get the community to address the blighted properties through the unsightly trash ordinance the county passed in January. The ordinance deals with junk cars, junk, overgrown and infested lots — things that would be considered a menace to the public health, safety and welfare of a community.
"It's not something the board can just go out and do. It is a community-driven ordinance," Morgan said. "If the majority of the landowners within 750 feet sign a petition, the case will go before a hearing officer.
"They can be ordered to clean up the property. If they don't, the county can clean it up and not only bill them, but add a fine."
The ordinance, which mirrors a state law, allows the county to impose a fine of $1,500 of 50 percent of the cost of cleaning the property. If the landowner doesn't pay, the bill will be attached to the property as a lien.
Morgan said he will be bringing copies of the ordinance as well as petitions to a community meeting scheduled Thursday evening at the Tombigbee Electric Power Association.