The president of the Niagara Falls Block Club Council urged city leaders Tuesday to reorganize the city's Inspections Department and allocate more money to demolishing vacant and dilapidated buildings.
Roger Spurback, who represents a network of 29 block clubs in the Falls, warned city leaders that "some neighborhoods are dying a slow death" and that a better plan needs to be put in place to address the condition of vacant properties.
Spurback showed Council members seven pictures of properties that were left in poor condition after demolitions paid for by the city were completed and distributed dozens of other photographs that showed dilapidated buildings, garbage and unkempt properties throughout the Falls.
"We request real action rather than excuses," Spurback said.
Spurback blamed the city's Inspections Department for failing to adequately follow up on resident complaints and said the block clubs want the department reorganized.
Block club leaders have also called on Mayor Paul A. Dyster and the City Council to allocate $2 million to demolishing vacant buildings next year.
Dyster said city leaders have tentatively allocated about $1.4 million for demolition work next year, but Spurback said he believes that will still fall short of what is needed.
"An immediate plan for two to three years must be put in place," Spurback said. "Tomorrow, if not sooner."
Dyster, reached after the Council meeting, said he has been speaking to block club leaders throughout the summer and has heard numerous complaints about the condition of vacant housing and other properties throughout the city.
The mayor said he is looking at additional ordinances the city could put in place to make the Inspections Department more effective in dealing with speculative land owners and absentee landlords.
He said complicated procedures for citing landowners sometimes make it difficult to get conditions cleaned up.
"We need to figure out some way of trying to do better on this," Dyster said. "We're trying to be creative and to think about some things that we can do. We have a lot of dedicated people working in that department and we want to try to get the maximum return for their effort."
In the short term, Dyster said, an inspector who plans to retire next year will be hired on a part-time basis in an attempt to boost the inspections staff.
Dyster said the Falls is dealing with the same problems with vacant houses that are facing Buffalo and other shrinking communities in Western New York.
"We're rebuilding a city from a base of 56,000 people, trying to move forward from there, but we used to have a population of over 100,000," Dyster said. "Those buildings, they've been sitting mothballed over time, and shingles last for so long and siding lasts for so long, but we're kind of coming to the end of the period where you could just kind of close buildings up that have been vacant in some cases for 20, 30 years on and off."
Dyster said he has also been working with Sen. Charles E. Schumer to try to get additional federal demolition and rehabilitation money for Niagara Falls.
Buildings Commissioner Guy Bax is scheduled to go before the Council to discuss the Inspections Department budget during a work session at 4:30 p.m. today.
Roger J. Miller, president of the Echota West Block Club, echoed Spurback's concerns about vacant properties.
"We try to maintain them. I don't know what the answer is," Miller said. "We have a lot of vacant lots."