Mount Vernon, New York. Two days after Mayor Thomas releases a letter to the public, City Council President Roberta L. Apuzzo condemns the recent accusations of Mayor Thomas claiming they refuse to raze zombie homes and that they have denied funding for same.
The Mayor’s allegations are false. If it is indeed true that Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has awarded $175,000 to the City of Mount Vernon to assist the city in razing zombie homes, Mayor Thomas must submit a letter to the City Council requesting legislation to accept the award. To date, the City Council has not received any correspondence from the Thomas Administration to receive grants which will allow the city to tear down these eyesores. The City Council welcomes outside funding, when appropriate, to minimize cost to the city’s taxpayers. In fact, the City Council was pleased to adopt legislation at the last meeting held on April 12, 2017 authorizing the Mayor to accept approximately $825,237 of funding from Westchester County and the State of New York to continue various programs offered by the city’s Youth Bureau and Recreation Department. Council President Apuzzo stated, “When monies come to the city and they have been properly vetted, the Council always allows the Mayor to follow-through”. To date, the City Council has authorized the Mayor to accept close to $2 million.
It is without a doubt that zombie homes are a nuisance to residents, lower property values, and cause blight. While the City Council agrees that these structures must be removed, the first action should be to address any legal issues and to follow proper procedures. The first attempt of Mayor Thomas to raze a zombie home was mired in illegalities and prompted action by the State of New York. Owners of the property obtained a building permit to repair the fire-damaged home but were in negotiations with the insurance company. Moreover, the owners had just paid over $8,000 in city and school taxes. What makes matters worse, they were never notified by the City of Mount Vernon that their home would be demolished…sufficient legal notification was not given! Proper protocol regarding asbestos abatement was not followed, forcing the New York State Department of Labor, Asbestos Control Division, to issue a stop work order to the city, preventing the demolition of any other zombie properties.
Mayor Thomas also asserts that the city’s Planning Department has been awarded funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In many instances, the City Council may not be required to adopt legislation authorizing acceptance of these monies as authorization may only be required by the city’s Urban Renewal Agency. If financial assistance is available for low and moderate income households to repair their properties, it is not a decision of the City Council; rather, it is a day-to-day function of the Administration. Certainly, the City Council cannot prevent the Planning Department from providing this type of assistance.
The City Council believes in following the laws set forth by the State of New York and the City of Mount Vernon in order to conduct the people’s business. To do otherwise would be irresponsible and cause serious liabilities that taxpayers should not be required to pay.
In short, the City Council must receive a request from the Mayor to accept funding into the city’s coffers. Furthermore, it is imperative for the Thomas administration to ensure that all laws are followed before attempting to tear down properties. This would consist of providing proper legal notice to owners, obtaining appropriate authorization, asbestos abatement and removal that are done correctly, as well as instituting other safety measures. The Mayor should send a letter to the Council so the city can receive the money and start removing zombie homes…legally!
Mayor Thomas must put an end to his reckless behavior. His careless actions are costing the city’s taxpayers and it is a burden they cannot afford. It would be advantageous for Mayor Thomas to do his due diligence and to execute decisions in a deliberate and thoughtful manner. If he continues to approach these matters hastily, his actions – and the consequences of his choices – would be the REAL reason property values continue to decrease in the City of Mount Vernon.