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NEW GROUP WILL AIM TO TACKLE NEIGHBORHOOD HOUSING DECAY

There will now be less red tape and more residents' input for the city office devoted to revitalizing dilapidated neighborhoods, Mayor Vincenzo Anello said Tuesday after the City Council approved his proposal to reorganize the Community Development Department.

"This is an attempt to deliver what we've been promising for a long time -- accountability," said Anello, who believes the move will mean fewer complaints from residents about housing code violations going unnoticed.

"Basically what it is going to do is develop a high level of credibility and accountability because of the council of residents and businessmen."

Under the plan -- which will take effect Jan. 1 -- Community Development will take over residential inspections and demolitions with the help of an additional building inspector and the establishment of a Community Advisory Committee that will comprise residents, business owners and the Niagara Falls Block Club Council.

Councilman Lewis Rotella questioned who -- Anello or the City Council -- will appoint the members to the advisory committee

Anello said he didn't care, just as long as it is established.

"If it (the reorganization) doesn't work we can change it, we need to do something because it's not working to the satisfaction of the taxpayers."

The initial plan called for two inspectors to be transferred from the Inspections Department to Community Development but that was shot down by union officials who said they are needed where they are.

The move also means Community Development will separate from Economic Development, which will be placed under the supervision of the city administrator and the mayor's office.

The Community Development director's position -- currently unfilled -- will be deleted while Robert Antonucci, Community Development project director, will receive an additional $5,000 to take over those responsibilities.

One clean-neighborhood code enforcement officer also will receive a Civil Service salary step increase.

Creation of a one-stop home ownership center as a collaborative effort of city housing agencies is being touted by Anello as the centerpiece of the reorganization.

Some of his tentative goals for the plans include 100 first-time home buyers to be in an education program by the ownership center's first year, and 200 residential inspections and code enforcements to be completed next year.

The Council also voted to approve a revolving loan fund of $1.3 million and a nearly $270,000 reimbursement to the city for street upgrades from the Community Development Department to help it lower its Community Development Block Grant account.

That move will mean the department will be in compliance with federal standards by the end of the month and not be penalized for having not spent enough of its money from that account.

e-mail: gnorheim@buffnews.com

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