TOWN OF NIAGARA – Two measures related to a home demolition that took place seven months ago were approved by the Niagara Town Board on Tuesday.
In separate votes, the board approved paying $28,521 to Mark Cerrone Inc. for performing the emergency demolition May 12 of the structure at 3045 Petroleum St. and authorizing the town attorney to investigate why the bill was not submitted to Niagara County for reimbursement.
Much of the discussion on both matters centered on the political division between Councilman Robert Clark, who sought to have the house torn down, and Councilman Danny Sklarski, who wants to know why the town was stuck with the bill.
Clark said he was contacted by neighbors who feared children playing near the abandoned property would be injured, as three sides of the foundation were severely damaged. According to the discussion, Clark contacted the town building inspector, who determined the structure to be unsafe. The rest of the board members were contacted and approved the demolition over the phone.
Clark said Supervisor Steven Richards never responded to a page. Richards denied being paged about the issue.
The bill for the work was received by the town May 18. The town also reviewed another $1,200 for air quality sampling done at the site by a Grand Island environmental firm. The property was sold by the county at an August auction for $1,500, it was noted.
Sklarski said he wanted to know why the bills were not turned in to the county to be attached as a lien on the property. If submitted in time, the town would have been reimbursed, he said. Sklarski and Councilman Charles Teixeira voted against the payment.
As a result, taxpayers and businesses “had to eat this total amount,” which could have made a difference in the 2013 town budget in which a number of departments were cut, he said.
“We have an obligation to find out. … It’s inexcusable in these hard financial times,” Sklarski said.
Clark said the town had enough evidence already about what happened. He said he had more than two pages of contacts between town officials about the bill, which he said was discussed several times by board members and “went back and forth.”
“My biggest fear is that this will turn into a witch hunt and waste more taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.
Teixeira and Deputy Supervisor Marc Carpenter voted to support the investigation, which passed, 4-1, with Clark in dissent.
Teixeira said he wanted to know why bills for the town’s cutting grass on private property and delinquent water bills are regularly sent to the county, but this one was not.
Carpenter noted the process should have been very simple.
“Obviously, something is missing. This is the first time I’ve ever seen this happen,” Carpenter said.
Attorney Michael Risman was assigned to look into the matter. He said it should take about 60 days to complete.
Risman said he recalled discussing the bill with the building inspector and the supervisor but stressed that he is not criticizing anyone at this point. Normally, he said, an emergency demolition is approved retroactively by a board after the work is completed, and the funding source is identified so it can be added to the property tax bill.