The city last year spent $840,000 to handle emergency demolition of hazardous and dangerous buildings. With an in-house demolition unit, the city could have saved as much as $200,000, according to information presented to the city council on Tuesday night.
Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres’ administration is looking to start an in-house demolition program to reduce the cost the city incurs in hiring private contractors to handle demolition following a fire or when a building is declared an imminent hazard by the government.
The full start-up cost for an in-house demolition program has yet to be calculated. However, there are some estimates. For instance, the city will need to invest $500,000 on equipment, an excavator and dump truck. It will also have to budget $100,000 to properly dispose of debris and other post-demolition materials, according to estimates provided by fire chief Michael Postorino.
The typical cost to demolish a three-story wood frame house damaged in fire is approximately $30,000, said the chief.
“Unfortunately, through the course of the year, due to fire and other imminent hazards, the city is put in the position on occasion to have to have emergency demolitions take place,” said Postorino.
Just in 2016, the city had to demolish 8 structures due to fire costing $240,000. Another 20 structures were ordered to be demolished through code enforcement for being imminent hazards costing $600,000. In all, the city spent $840,000 on demolitions in 2016, said the chief.
“Just looking at 2016, $840,000 is a significant amount of money,” said Postorino. He needed the council’s buy-in before moving ahead with the program.
Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, asked where the city would obtain the funds to start the program.
Postorino said the city is looking at grant funds. He mentioned possible grant opportunities through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and also the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.
“We will explore every option to minimize the cost to the city,” said the chief. His presentation also stated the city could bond to purchase the equipment.
“If we handled the demos ourselves, we would have been $200,000 less in expenses,” said council president William McKoy. He was first to suggest the city look to start a demolition program within the public works department to cut costs of emergency demolitions.
Postorino indicated the savings are likely to be much bigger in the second year. He noted purchasing the equipment is a one-time expense. There’s also gathering qualified staff to handle the demolition work.
Ruby Cotton, 4th Ward councilwoman, inquired about the number of employees needed to run the program.
Postorino said the city will need a crane operator, commercial drivers, and other staff. He said the city can train existing staff from the fire and public works departments through the Operating Engineers Union apprenticeship program. He said this will create a pool of people the city can call on when the need emerges to demolish a building.
Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman, asked whether there are other towns with similar programs. The chief said Chicago and Detroit have similar programs. He also said East Orange in New Jersey has such a program.
The city’s program will be housed within the city’s Office of Emergency Management which is overseen by the Paterson Fire Department.
“It’s our desire to have a unit within the city that will do demolitions,” said McKoy. The council appeared in full support of the program. There were no opposition to the administration’s proposal.