Gloversville eyes its own demo team

Backlog of blighted properties leads city to look at all options

The Gloversville Common Council on Tuesday resumed discussions on the possible formation of a city or inter-municipal demolition team after plans to establish a pilot program offering select properties acquired through tax foreclosure to income-qualified homebuyers to occupy and rehabilitate fell through this year when the five properties selected to launch the program were determined by the city to be more suitable for demolition due to their condition. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

GLOVERSVILLE — The Common Council on Tuesday resumed discussions surrounding the possible formation of a city or intermunicipal demolition team after plans to establish a housing program offering tax foreclosed city residences to income-qualified homebuyers to occupy and rehabilitate were put on hold for this year due to the poor condition of the selected homes.

Mayor Vincent DeSantis on Tuesday asked the Common Council to consider issuing a request for proposals to perform a feasibility study examining the costs and potential state funding opportunities associated with forming a city or intermunicipal demolition team.

“If we join with the county it may be a possibility that we could secure funding from the Department of State for municipal consolidation efforts,” DeSantis said. “I think it really deserves at least a study so we can start the ball rolling, getting information as to what the costs would be, what the feasibility would be for something like that.”

The city has for the past several years considered forming its own demolition team or utilizing city employees for a joint venture with the Fulton County Demolition Team to catch up on the backlog of tax foreclosed city properties included on the county’s demolition list.

The city has been mulling several options to address the cycling of dilapidated properties through the tax foreclosure and county auction process that city officials say each year sees buildings in poor condition purchased sight unseen.

Buyers of these properties are frequently unequipped to bring the properties up to code and instead leave the properties untouched for several years until the are reacquired by the county through tax foreclosure after they have further deteriorated due to neglect only to be placed on the auction block once more.

The city is working with county officials to acquire permission to inspect tax foreclosed properties ahead of the annual auction to provide input on which properties will be placed on the demolition list and to compile detailed information to provide to prospective bidders on the work required to bring each building up to code.

This inspection process would further aid the city in developing a program proposed by DeSantis in July to offer tax foreclosed city residences to income qualified homebuyers who would be required by covenant to rehabilitate the building within a set period of time and personally occupy the home.

The properties would be subject to a reverter clause that would see the residences returned to city ownership if the homebuyers failed to perform the required maintenance or to uphold the terms of the purchase agreement.

The county had agreed to convey five underbid properties from this year’s auction to the city to launch the program, but DeSantis on Tuesday said that after he inspected the properties with City Building Inspector David Fox, a former contractor, it was determined that four of the five properties were unsuitable due to their poor condition.

“It would have been so expensive to bring those buildings up to code that it would be unfeasible for us to find homeowners that would be willing to do that,” DeSantis said. “We didn’t want to saddle a prospective buyer with an unreasonable expense to bring those properties up to code, we were very disappointed with the conditions of those properties.”

DeSantis said the city was willing to take title to one of the selected properties located at 23 Park St., but county officials declined to convey just one out of the five originally agreed upon properties.

Although he went on to describe the four other properties as more suitable for demolition, DeSantis said all five properties will be offered by the county to the highest auction bidders. The other properties are located at 126 North St., 121 Sixth Ave., 31 Grand St. and 28 Allen St.

DeSantis said that he still hopes to launch the housing program next year, noting that the ability to inspect properties before the auction would aid the city in selecting suitable residences, in addition to informing bidders and allowing the city to provide the county greater input on which structures require demolition.

“It would give us much more detailed information on which properties can be rehabbed and are able to go back to homeowners and which properties are more suitable for demolition,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis said that both Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead and County Treasurer Terry Blodgett have expressed an open attitude towards allowing the city advanced access to the tax foreclosed properties for inspection. He additionally argued that establishing a city or intermunicipal demolition team could provide the manpower needed to ensure that all properties suitable for razing are placed on the demolition list and taken down.

“We can make it easier and more feasible for the county to demolish by trying to have either our own demolition team or helping the county make their demolition team more robust,” DeSantis said. “We have to become active partners with the county in solving the problem.”

DeSantis also pointed out that the Fulton County Demolition Team is staffed with employees from the Fulton County Landfill who perform demolition work in between their normal duties, noting that the county team was originally established under the expectation that local municipalities would provide some level of personnel support for the service.

“I think it’s a good idea,” commented 2nd Ward Councilman Arthur Simonds. “The best way would be to partner with Johnstown and the county, giving them enough personnel to run a team all year long that way it helps us all greatly.”

The Common Council members voiced their support for DeSantis’ proposal, planning to consider a resolution at the next meeting on Aug. 27 to issue an RFP seeking firms to conduct a comparative examination of the costs and potential state funding opportunities associated with launching a city demolition team or intermunicipal demolition team.

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