NIAGARA FALLS – A new plan to regulate the demolition business in the city isn’t expected to drive away the companies that tear down its blighted structures.
But a yearly fee attached to the plan has some demolition officials complaining about the price.
“All the other municipalities have pretty much the same practice, so making sure the demolition contractor is the one doing the demo work, I like it, but I think the price is a little exorbitant,” said Jackie Brown, corporate secretary of Empire Dismantling.
Workers at Brown’s Grand Island company tear down houses in Buffalo, where a demolition license is $500 per year, and Niagara Falls, where a license under the new plan would cost $1,000 per year.
“Buffalo is twice the size of Niagara Falls, and the fee is half,” Brown added. “I just think it is a little high in comparison to surrounding areas.”
Brown said that demolition licenses in the Tonawandas also run a few hundred dollars per year. But like most other demolition contractors contacted by The Buffalo News, the new plan to regulate the industry won’t stop her from doing the type of work she did at the Seneca Niagara Casino and the observation tower in Niagara Falls State Park.
“Am I going to run down and spend $1,000 and not know if I have any work? No. But if I get that good job in the City of Niagara Falls, I’ll be standing in line to give them my money,” Brown said.
That’s exactly what city lawmakers envisioned when they unanimously passed a measure last week that would regulate the city’s demolition industry in a more extensive way.
Under the plan, city officials would issue yearly demolition licenses after scrutinizing the financial and insurance information of companies that apply. The plan would also create a Demolition Review Board where demolition contractors could make complaints about the enforcement of the new law.
Companies would be required to pay a $1,000 fee each year for the right to do business within the city. Contractors would need to renew the license each year.
“There are substantial benefits to this new ordinance that will allow the city to maintain an up-to-date public list of approved demolition contractors; force demolition contractors to adhere to the same level of performance as home-improvement contractors; require the companies to clearly identify their equipment and work site presence; monitor job site safety along with code compliance; and protect public safety,” Councilman Sam Fruscione said in a statement last week.
One of the city’s largest demolition companies has no problem with the new regulations, although officials there acknowledges that the fee is higher than those in surrounding towns and cities. “It’s good to have some kind of mandate or understanding of who you’re dealing with as a contractor, as a municipality,” said George L. Churakos, vice president of Mark Cerrone Inc.
Churakos said that similar measures in most towns and cities protect the municipalities against companies that regularly complete substandard work, walk off jobs or don’t adhere to state asbestos-removal standards.
“If your work is not up to standards, then you’re going to be revoked for a period of time inside that municipality,” Churakos said. “If they’re doing everything up to par, then they have nothing to look over their shoulder on.”
But Harold G. Hibbard, a top demolition contractor in Buffalo, sees the regulation as “ridiculous.”
“I just really don’t see the point of it,” Hibbard said. “… I think it’s kind of a joke. Is that really going to make a difference in the deficit in that city? Are you kidding me?
“You always get rogue guys come in and out, but usually if there’s an issue they usually self-destruct themselves. [The regulations are] not going to keep a bad demolition contractor from bidding work in Niagara Falls for a thousand bucks.”
But as demolition contractors have pointed out, the city could prevent a repeat offender from doing business in the city.
The demolition business has boomed in recent years as the city’s housing stock has continued to deteriorate.
City officials estimate that one-fifth of the city’s homes are vacant, and many crumble within minutes of the falls. This creates a blighted appearance for visitors to the city, lawmakers have said, and the volume of demolition is expected to increase this year.
The city has been spending about $300,000 per year on demolition, Fruscione said, and that figure could balloon if it receives the casino funds from the Seneca Nation of Indians.
“I believe if they had more funds, more demos would take place,” Churakos said. “They just haven’t had the money.”