Gloversville to explore options for demo of blighted properties

GLOVERSVILLE — The Common Council plans to explore options related to the demolition of blighted tax foreclosed properties following a summer that saw only a handful of properties taken down by the Fulton County Demolition Team.

The county demolition team has taken down five properties in the city this year, with clearances obtained to knock down at least two more sometime this year, out of a list dating back several years of about 25 tax foreclosed properties identified by the county for demolition.

Fire Chief Thomas Groff reported to the Common Council during Tuesday’s meeting that he has not received any specific details on when the demolition team will be available to return to the city.

“They say they’ll come when they have enough people to run the landfill and do the demo at the same time,” Groff said.

Lack of control over the demolition process has long been a topic of discussion for the council that was brought up again by 1st Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss.

“This county thing doesn’t work out. We’re just not getting buildings taken care of like I think we thought we were going to,” Weiss said. “The ones that should be torn down aren’t getting torn down.”

Groff noted that in order for the city to assume control of the demolitions it would also have to take over the foreclosures and control of the properties from Fulton County.

“It’s their program,” Groff said.

The county was authorized to assume property tax collection and enforcement on delinquent city properties through an intermunicipal agreement in 2004 and Operation Green Scene was established by the county in 2007 to address dilapidated government acquired properties.

Tax foreclosed properties that are unlikely to sell in public auction due to their condition are identified under the program, removed from the annual county auction list and placed in the custody of the county Department of Solid Waste until they can be taken down by the county demolition team.

The county demolition team works through the list of properties as they are received by resolution from the Fulton County Board of Supervisors, with the necessary approvals and when Fulton County Landfill staff are available to perform the work.

Landfill staff have been kept busy this year with demolition work at the Tryon Technology Park in Perth, demolition projects for other municipalities and an extensive $5.4 million expansion project at the landfill that began in spring 2017 and was completed in July.

Additionally, each property requires approval for and disconnection from power, water, sewer and any other utilities. After utilities are disconnected the county must file paperwork with the state for further approval before demolitions can be performed.

Mayor Dayton King encouraged the council members to reach out to city supervisors about the process and expressed willingness to ask the supervisors to participate in an open meeting with the council in the future as suggested by Third Ward Councilwoman Elizabeth Batchelor.

“Perhaps they would advocate for us more strongly if they were aware of what the issues seem to be,” Batchelor said.

But Weiss argued that the city should have more direct control of the situation, noting that properties that are not identified for demolition and are instead sold at auction often are in such poor condition that they eventually are foreclosed on a second time when new owners fail to pay taxes on the blighted properties.

“I think we should have some say in that because it ends up in our laps again,” Weiss said. “We need to have some say in what’s happening, we have no say so nothing happens that we want to have happen.”

The city does provide some input to the county through Building Inspector Brandon Myers who works with county officials when they evaluate properties, but Groff noted that typically only four or five properties total are selected each year for demolition by the county.

“We have more that we could tear down,” Groff added.

Second Ward Councilman Arthur Simonds pointed out that the alternative to having the county handle the foreclosure and demolition process would be having city employees take on the tasks, requiring expenditures for training, equipment and salaries.

“Then you’re looking at our own troops doing it,” Simonds said. “It all costs money and it all costs personnel.”

City Attorney Anthony Casale suggested that the council conduct a feasibility study or cost analysis to determine the cost of establishing a city demolition team.

“I do think it’s advisable,” Casale said. “Even if we don’t have it in the budget to do now I think you do have to have some data to further this discussion.”

Casale argued that once the current list of properties identified for demolition are taken down there will be more buildings nearing their “expiration date” to be added to the list.

“It’s not as if this list we’re talking about is concrete and once those buildings are done the problem goes away,” Casale said. “We’re continuing to rely exclusively on Fulton County Demolition and it’s not only the housing stock in the city of Gloversville that’s expiring all at once, that’s half the county wide and beyond our county.”

Sixth Ward Councilman Wrandy Siarkowski pointed to the city of Johnstown as a possible source of information given that the city formed its own demolition team earlier this year and Department of Public Works Director Dale Trumbull agreed to reach out to the city for details.

To prevent issues with derelict buildings being sold at county auction only to be foreclosed on again, city Assessor Joni Dennie suggested inspecting properties before the annual auctions and reporting the necessary work with property listings.

“It would say specifically in the auction: to meet code, this this and this needs to be done. You only want to spend $2,000 on this house, you need to know that you need to put in $25,000 or we’re not going to give you a [certificate of occupancy],” Dennie said.

“It would prevent a lot of this revolving door stuff,” Councilman-at-Large Vincent DeSantis said in support of the idea.

The council agreed to research both the possible formation of a city demolition team and the ability of the city to inspect tax foreclosed properties before they are sold at county auction for future discussion.