By LEVI PASCHER
Fulton County Express
GLOVERSVILLE – The city took official action last week to raze the two buildings that were heavily damaged by an alleged arson last month.
The Common Council approved spending $55,000 from the contingency to hire Pareene Contracting to demolish and remove the debris from the buildings at 3 Harrison St. and 395 S. Main St. Although the decision was ultimately approved by the council it sparked a public debate on Tuesday night about what process is followed to determine which buildings damaged by fires should or shouldn’t be removed by the city.
Fire Chief Tom Groff said the decision was made because both buildings presented an imminent danger to the public. He said he followed the city code which states he can take such action to have the buildings removed once they had been declared dangerous to the general public.
He said both buildings are located in high traffic areas within the city and needed to be removed to avoid any potential accidents that could have possibly resulted in residents getting injured.
Sixth Ward Councilman Wrandy Siarkowski questioned Groff why he felt this was needed when it didn’t take down a building previously damaged by fire at 14 Temple St. The two-family home located on Temple Street was previously damaged by a fire on July 3, 2014.
“It has been burned out for two years now, it’s still standing,” Siarkowski said.
Siarkowski said he has received multiple complaints from residents living within that section of the city that are worried about the deteriorating condition of the building.
He also questioned why the bids for both the Harrison Street and South Main Street buildings were approved without the council taking official action.
“We declared it an imminent danger right then and there,” Groff said. “We didn’t do that with Temple Street.”
City Attorney Anthony Casale said the action taken by the chief to seek bids was appropriate and allowed within the city code. However, Casale expressed issues with the councilman waiting until the public meeting to express his concerns to the chief about the process he appropriately followed.
“You haven’t made inquiry to me, to the mayor or to the chief before tonight,” Casale said. “This isn’t the first time you’ve tried this ‘gotcha’ in public session like this. If you’re going to do something like that, Wrandy, you better damn well know what you’re talking about because you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Groff told Siarkowski he could have called him about the issue before the public meeting but Siarkowski said he didn’t get the agenda until Friday afternoon. The chief told the councilman he could have called him over the weekend but Siarkowski said he “had other things to do.”
“You wanted to do this whole ‘gotcha’ thing because a couple of your gal pals are in the room,” Casale said.
Casale was referring to both former council members Robin Wentworth and Ellen Anadio, who were seated in the audience during the meeting.
Groff said the building at Temple Street could be torn down but it would need to be declared a danger for that process to begin. He said the building wasn’t immediately removed following the fire because owners of the property have shown interest in having it repaired.
He said the property has changed hands about four times with each of the different owners saying they are trying to renovate the damaged property.
“There is a chance you could rehab the building so we left it there,” Groff said. “It’s not going to fall down.”
Building Inspector Brandon Myers said he met with the owner and contractor two weeks ago and they advised him they were going to start cleaning the inside of the building.
“The building could have been rehabbed if it had been acted on quickly,” Myers said. “Now it’s on the edge, because it’s gone through two winters.”
Groff said the city could have Myers declare the Temple Street home a dangerous building and pay a contractor to take it down.
Myers also said the owners of these buildings would save money going through the city because the city is charged 30 to 50 percent less than what a property owner would be charged for demolition expenses.
Groff said the city will also be able to seek full reimbursement for the demolition from the property owners, plus an additional $1,500 in administrative expenses.
Additionally, Casale said in the event the owners fail to pay the demolition expense it could then put the expense on the property owner’s tax bill through litigation.
“We would have to seek judgement to make that happen,” he said.