LOCKPORT – The city has given up on plans to have the Police Department begin carrying out evictions, but the city attorney insisted Wednesday that the decision was financial, not legal.
“It wasn’t the moneymaker it appeared to be,” Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said, adding that he still disagrees with the contention by the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office that the city’s move violated state law.
He said the city wouldn’t be making any money on evictions once the cost of personnel, training and clerical time was calculated.
Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert suggested evictions as a way of bolstering the city’s budget. Landlords are charged $105 per evicted person, plus mileage, when the Civil Division of the Sheriff’s Office kicks out deadbeat tenants.
The city intended to charge the same and hoped to match the Sheriff’s Office proceeds. In 2012, deputies evicted 126 people in Lockport and collected $16,584 from landlords.
“Administratively, it’s a lot more work” than was thought, Ottaviano said. “In the long run, with the $13,000 or $16,000, we’d probably break even.”
Two weeks ago, Mayor Michael W. Tucker appointed Eggert to an additional position – the long-vacant job of city marshal – to give the chief and any officers he chose the authority to perform evictions.
The Sheriff’s Office struck back, with Chief Deputy Thomas C. Beatty stating that advice from attorneys for the State Sheriffs Association was that if a city had no city marshal to carry out evictions as of June 30, 1988 – and Lockport didn’t – it was prohibited from filling the post thereafter.
Ottaviano said the City Charter predated the 1988 state law and included the city marshal position. But the sheriff’s views on the issue had an impact on his recommendation to Tucker to cancel Eggert’s appointment as marshal, which the mayor did Wednesday.
“The public debate as to the city’s authority in the press didn’t help. The first time an eviction order was served, the tenant, if they read the local news, would challenge it,” Ottaviano said.
Such challenges were predicted by Beatty in a Buffalo News article Jan. 6.
Sheriff James C. Voutour said the city hadn’t informed him of its decision before a reporter told him of it. Voutour said, “We will continue to serve the citizens of the City of Lockport as we always have.”
His department handles all evictions in the county outside Niagara Falls, which has a city marshal.