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Youngstown officials to consider spending American Rescue Plan dollars on house demolitions

YOUNGSTOWN — City council will consider legislation Wednesday to permit the board of control to hire contractors for up to $1 million, from Youngstown’s American Rescue Plan funds, to demolish about 75 to 100 vacant houses.

Council also will vote at its Wednesday meeting to allow the board to enter into a contract for up to $100,000 for asbestos testing on about 100 vacant structures.

The two proposals come from the $3 million city council set aside in ARP money to address issues with the worst vacant houses in Youngstown.

After the two allocations, the fund will have about $500,000 left in it, said Michael Durkin, the city’s code enforcement and blight remediation superintendent.

“By the end of this year, we’ll be pretty much at the end of the line with demos,” Durkin said. “After this, we’d have at the most, 50 houses that need to come down. It will grow a little. There will always be some, but it’s more manageable.”

More than 2,600 vacant houses have been demolished in Youngstown since 2017, according to statistics provided by Durkin. There were 621 taken down in 2017, 646 in 2018 and 513 in 2019. But it has slowed down since then, with under 250 annually between 2020 and 2022, and increasing to 264 last year, he said.

City council approved using $8 million of the city’s $82.8 million ARP award on Dec. 15, 2021, for the abatement and demolition of properties throughout Youngstown.

The city kept the money set aside and didn’t do demolitions with the ARP money as it awaited word on an application for a grant through the Ohio Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Program. The Mahoning County Land Bank on Dec. 6, 2022, was awarded $6.9 million for demolition work, including $5.3 million to take down about 500 vacant houses in Youngstown.

Of the 264 houses demolished last year in Youngstown, 176 came from city ARP funds, 27 were done by private property owners at their personal expense and 61 from the land bank, Durkin said.

The land bank will do more than 350 demolitions in the city this year and will finish the rest in 2025, Durkin said.

The remaining $500,000 in the ARP demolition fund will either go toward more demolitions or could be reallocated by city council for other projects, Durkin said.

The city has to allocate all of its ARP money by Dec. 31.

BOMB-SNIFFING DOG

Also Wednesday, council will vote on using $15,000 from the city’s 5th Ward ARP fund to purchase a bomb-sniffing dog for the police department. The legislation is sponsored by Councilman Pat Kelly, D-5th Ward.

Kelly, a former city police detective sergeant, said officers asked if he’d consider using the ARP money for a bomb-sniffing dog because they don’t have one.

Council voted April 6, 2022, to give each of its seven members $2 million in ARP funds for ward projects.

After the purchase, Kelly said his ward fund has a little more than $180,000 left.

He is considering using the remaining money to purchase automated license plate reader cameras from Flock Safety with a focus on using most of them in his ward on the city’s West Side.

The cameras are used by a number of area law enforcement agencies to help solve crimes and capture wanted individuals.

SAFETY CAMPUS

Council also will reconsider spending $3 million in ARP funds to hire an architectural firm for a proposed safety-service campus.

Council chose at its Feb. 21 meeting not to vote on that legislation, sponsored by Mayor Jamael Tito Brown, at Kelly’s request.

The legislation is opposed by Kelly and Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th Ward, and possibly others.

Kelly said he fully expects the proposal to get a second reading Wednesday “because if it comes to a vote, it will go down. They don’t have the support for it. You can’t get seven of us to agree on it.”

The legislation is supposed to be the first major financial commitment for an envisioned safety-service complex with the police station and main fire station on the city’s North Side.

The project is estimated to cost $45 million with Brown asking city council in December to commit up to $15 million in ARP funds for the facility. That financial commitment met with resistance from a majority of council members.

Brown said at the Feb. 21 meeting the $3 million for the design work would help nail down the actual cost of the project as well as consider alternate locations.

The administration’s plan would be to use ARP money as well as state and federal grants with the rest borrowed by the city over a 20-year period.

The project would take eight to 10 months to design and then 18 to 24 months to construct.

The location proposed by the administration is on Wick Avenue at what was known as the Wick Six, a group of new car dealerships that left in the 1980s.

The city purchased much of the 12 acres of property in 2015 and has spent at least $750,000, mostly from grants, to clean it up for development.

Council will again reconsider a proposal Wednesday to give $52,000 from Davis’ ward ARP fund for the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. to do renovations and improvements to Beyond Expectations Barber College on Glenwood Avenue.

The proposal received a first reading at council’s Feb. 21 meeting.

Davis sponsored legislation that council passed June 21 to give $55,000 to sponsor five students at the barber school. It was repealed Dec. 6 after it was determined it would be better used for improvements.

Have an interesting story? Contact David Skolnick by email at dskolnick@vindy.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @dskolnick

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