Razing a problem

A Wapakoneta City Council member is questioning the fiscal soundness of the city spending money from the general fund to help raze structures in 2012 to take advantage of state grants to eliminate slum and blight.
Wapakoneta 1st Ward Councilor Jim Neumeier learned this week the breakdown of city dollars spent to help raze four structures in 2012, beyond the $40,000 grant used to actually tear down the structures.
He voiced his displeasure with more than $20,000 in additional spending as well as the fact councilors were not made aware of the amount spent prior to purchase orders being approved. He now questions if the city should continue accepting the grants before Wapakoneta City Council members are made aware of the estimated cost the city budget will have to endure for preliminary studies and work.
“I hope everyone on council understands what we have actually paid for out of city funds out of account 301 (Street and Sewer Improvement Fund) a large chunk of change on asbestos removal and other things on some of those properties we are tearing down,” Neumeier said during Monday’s council meeting. “CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) money is not paying 100 percent and we need to be aware of that when we are asked to take action on that grant again this year.”
Safety-Service Director Bill Rains explained the city paid $1,180 for an asbestos evaluation on each of four properties identified in 2012 to be razed. The city spent an additional $17,566 for actual asbestos and hazardous material abatement for the four properties. The city spent a total of $22,256 in general fund money to prepare four sites for demolition.
Rains told the Wapakoneta Daily News an average of the past five years would likely show similar expenses in regard to evaluations and abatement.
During a Finance Committee in early February, Neumeier said he had a problem with city administrators approving the expenditures and requested Metz and Rains to justify those expenditures.
“My problem is when did we get into the business of supplementing private property out of our tax dollars — this was general fund money,” Neumeier said. “We are sitting here with a general fund that is anemic and getting more anemic every year. We peeled off $20,000 for an evaluation and asbestos abatement and then we tore down the house with a grant and now the property owner has the property up for sale. Does any of that come back to us for getting this done?”
Councilor-at-large Tom Finkelmeier, who defended using some city funds to eliminate eyesores in the community, also would like a breakdown to gain a better understanding of preliminary costs prior to grant money being used for the razing of the structures.
“It adds a benefit to the community as a whole which is why I support it, but I would like to know what it is actually costing us to do those things,” Finkelmeier said.
Wapakoneta 3rd Ward Councilor Bonnie Wurst said city administrators need to inform Finance Committee members of the city’s cost prior to accepting the grant money to make sure it fits within the city’s budget.
She directed them to inform her of the possible expenses so she can schedule a meeting of the Finance Committee, which she chairs, so they can discuss the costs and the city budget.
After discussing the process with Engineering Department Superintendent Mary Ruck, Mayor Rodney Metz said these funds were expended after the properties were identified by the city for demolition but prior to the city receiving the grant. He explained this is a typical procedure for the city.
“We are always responsible for the asbestos survey because that is how the property can get qualified for the grant dollars,” said Metz, who signed off on the asbestos removal for the property at 311 E. Auglaize St. and who initially believed CDBG funds were used. “Before we can receive the grant for demolition, we must have permission from the property owner and we must have a clean site, so in order to have a clean site an asbestos and hazardous material evaluation conducted. We have to have these two major steps done before we can even apply for the funding.”
The $40,000 grant received by the city through the Move Ohio Forward program, an initiative of Gov. John Kasich and state Attorney General Mike DeWine, covered the demolition of the four residences, which included $19,622 for the demolition of the residence at 311 E. Auglaize St. by VTF, of Celina.
Rains and Metz assured the demolition this month of the house attached to Max’s Dairy Bar was demolished using private funds. The house had been on a list for demolition two years ago, but it did not qualify and the owner paid for the demolition.
In light of new information coming forward on the razing of properties, the mayor said moving forward he would like city policy be that administrators be notified of the estimate, and that it be as close as possible to the real cost or to have a worst-case scenario cost presented, before the city expends any money.
“We should have a general idea what the assessment or evaluation costs are going to be and administration will have to have the information regarding the assessment costs and an estimate on the hazardous material abatement costs and I want to have that before council and their blessing before I say yes and sign off on the razing of the home,” Metz said. “These are the steps we need to take in the future as we move forward from this point in time.”