Zombie property grant to aid Salamanca blight fight

The Salamanca Common Council authorized the creation of a new firefighter/code enforcement officer position for the city to help collect housing data in the city as part of a plan to tackle blighted and zombie properties.

SALAMANCA — The Salamanca Common Council moved one step closer to tackling the city’s blighted and zombie properties this week.

On Wednesday, the state Attorney General’s Office announced a $47,500 grant for Salamanca from the Zombies 2.0 funding round, which will help fund staff and equipment to inventory zombie properties in the city.

“It’s hard to make a plan for what we want to do with housing stock when we really don’t have any data that tells us what we have,” said Youth Bureau Director Sandi Brundage, who helped submit the grant for the city. “We think we know and we can conjecture, but this is absolutely a solid set of data that will spit out information to us so we know what we’re looking at.”

Salamanca officials reported in February they seek to inventory vacated, bank-owned and foreclosed properties in the city, similar to what Olean did after 2016.

“If we find a vacant house, sometimes it’s very difficult to find the person who owns it,” said Fire Chief Nick Bocharski.

Part of accepting the grant required the council to create one new firefighter/code enforcement officer position in the city fire department. The grant would cover the new firefighter’s benefits and a computer to log the data collected.

“The goal for just one year would be to have a person go through ward by ward, categorize and collect data on the housing stock and then have quarterly meetings,” Brundage said.

“When I first sat with my staff I said we should be able to do this quickly,” Bocharski said, but the city code officer told the chief it would take about two months per city ward.

Bocharski said this grant is only for one year, so the firefighter might not be guaranteed permanent employment with the city after the grant runs out. However, the city would have a fully-trained firefighter they could move into the department if a spot is available.

“There may be the possibility of a firefighter’s position, but we don’t know that a year from now,” added council member Janet Koch, D-Ward 5.

City officials hope to use the database to help hold owners accountable for blighted properties, as well as keep an eye on opportunities to remedy issues.

“Would it then be a situation where we would say we notice it’s the same owner, landlord, subtenant or whatever, or is it that the housing stock is just so old that we have a higher incidence of children with lead paint, or is it fill-in-the-blank,” Brundage said.

The city will be required to provide in-kind services including office equipment, vehicles and firefighter training for the grant. The grant would reimburse the city about ¼ of the grant every three months.

“This is only round two,” Brundage said. “What we would do is apply next year for round three so we can then analyze what information we have.” For example, she said round three’s funds could include help the city attorney with legal support to decide what to do with the housing stock in poor condition.

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the council approved the submission of a grant through the state Consolidated Funding Application (CFA) to assist with a feasibility study for the State Park Avenue campground project.

Brundage said the city recently met with the county Department of Economic Development, Planning & Tourism and with officials from the Allegany State Park to discuss the real possibility of a campground site.

With the feasibility study, the city could figure out how many spots could go there, what is the space needed, what water, electric and sewer hookups need to go there.

“I think we have a lot of that in hand, but it would be great to have someone else who does this all the time and let us know what we’re up against,” Brundage said.

Mayor Michael Smith said the campsite would most likely be on the city property farther away from the expressway and powerlines.

“Payroll wise, it would cost us a couple people,” he said. “You’ll have guys weed-eating and cleaning the showers and make sure the splash pad has sanitary water. So there will be some payroll expense, but it would certainly be covered in the profit margin.”

(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at kquigleysp@gmail.com)