City council agreed to increase the demolition budget by $250,000 to cover the cost of taking down vacant houses.
The city has demolished 293 houses this year and plans for 209 more to come down.
The city needs the $250,000 to help with the demolition of some of the houses slated to come down that are currently standing, said DeMaine Kitchen, the mayor’s chief of staff/ secretary who handles the city’s demolition program.
The $250,000 comes from the $590,517.60 check the city received from the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation as part of a rebate from the state.
Besides this $250,000 approved by council Wednesday, the city is spending about $2.3 million on housing demolition this year — $1 million from an attorney-general program for housing demolition, $840,180 from the city’s general fund and $475,000 from the city’s federal Community Development Block Grant allocation.
Of the 502 vacant houses either demolished or coming down by the end of the year, 121 were or will be taken down by contractors hired by the property owners and at no expense to the city.
Of the 381 other structures, the street department has demolished 100 and will take down 57 more this year.
The remaining structures are being taken down by companies hired by the city.
It costs about $7,500 for contractors to demolish a house, Kitchen said.
The expense per house for those demolished by the street department is about $4,000 to $4,500, though it — and the cost for contractor demos — can sometimes be higher, he said.
The cost for street-department demolitions is for fees from landfills taking the remains of the demolition and fuel costs, Kitchen said. The cost doesn’t include salaries and benefits for demolitions done by the street department’s workers, he said.
The city has about 4,000 to 5,000 vacant houses, said Mayor Charles Sammarone, but currently doesn’t have the money to demolish any more at this point.
If the city finds additional money, possibly from other federal programs, more vacant houses can be demolished this year, he said.
Also Wednesday, council authorized the board of control to sign contracts to allow city water customers to pay their bills online beginning in October.
Harry L. Johnson III, water commissioner/office manager, said, “It’s finally here. We’re in the final phase of getting this online.”
Sammarone, a former water commissioner, said, “People have been asking for this for 10 to 12 years. It’s long overdue.”
The online system also will allow city water customers to review their last 31 monthly bills, look at their water consumption, pay bills online and provide the option of signing up for paperless bills.
The water department has about 52,500 customers with the expectation that about 10 percent to 15 percent will use the online credit-card system, Johnson said.
Council also voted to place a charter amendment on the Nov. 5 ballot to eliminate the park and recreation commission, and to forward to the Mahoning County Board of Elections the language for an anti-fracking charter amendment that comes from a citizens’ initiative.
The elections board must certify the validity of the petitions before the initiative goes on the November ballot.