A disagreement over funding to replace a demolished staircase led the Fulton County Commissioners on Feb. 16 to ban the Village of Swanton from requesting a Revolving Loan Fund from the county for the next five years.
According to agenda minutes from the commissioners’ public sessions, the 3-0 decision expressed their disapproval over what they deemed a lack of good faith on the village’s part.
Edward Cieka, Swanton’s interim administrator, said he doesn’t understand their viewpoint. He said the village hasn’t acted irresponsibly because the owner of the building at 117 Main St. signed a release absolving the village of any obligation to replace the staircase in exchange for a financial settlement.
The stairway’s absence has left a second floor tenant in the building with only scaffolding as access to and from the upper apartment.
At their Feb. 16 session, the commissioners also approved a resolution to pay a $24,100 Revolving Loan Fund (RLF) requested to replace the staircase directly to Midwest Contracting of Holland, Ohio. The RLF request had upset the panel because it was the second one asked for that involved an issue within village jurisdiction.
The saga began in 2014, when Swanton petitioned Fulton County Common Pleas Court to declare 113-15 Main St. in the village a nuisance. The court agreed, and the collapsing building was demolished in January 2015 with financial help from a $21,500 RLF issued to the village by the commissioners in the form of a grant. The county’s RLF money is provided through the federal Community Block Development Grant (CDBG).
The village kicked in another $38,497 from its general fund to complete the demolition and clear the property of debris.
“The building was in bad condition going back, so it had a history,” Cieka said.
It shared a staircase with an adjacent building at 117 Main St., but the staircase was deemed too unsafe to save from demolition.
The owner of 117 Main St., Justin Serr, arranged to have scaffolding constructed to allow a second floor tenant in the building access to and from the upper apartment after the staircase was removed. Serr filed a complaint with the village over the situation and received a settlement of $5,000. He signed a release absolving the village of any responsibility for the missing stairs, according to the interim administrator.
According to Cieka, a list of conditions come with using CDBG funds, including the relocation of a tenant if use of the funds displaces them.
“(But) it’s my understanding that the tenant has never made a claim to be moved out of the building,” he said.
Serr then requested an RLF from Fulton County in the amount of a bid by Midwest Contracting to replace the staircase. That’s when the county proposed an agreement to pay $13,000 of the cost if Swanton would pay the remainder.
Cieka said the Swanton Village Council discussed the offer at its Feb. 8 meeting, then agreed to discuss it further at its next scheduled session on Feb. 22. At that following meeting the council formally approved the proposal.
Cieka attempted to contact Hall following the meeting but said Hall didn’t return the call.
According to agenda minutes taken during a commissioners session on Feb. 11, County Administrator Vond Hall reported the village had not responded to the proposal, even after he and Regional Planning Director David Wright attempted to contract Cieka. Hall said, to his knowledge, the village council had not yet taken action on the proposal.
Minutes from that session state: “Commissioner (Jeff) Rupp explains that his challenge with the request is that the village settled on $5,000, however, morally it is obvious that the village is obligated to make it right and to just come ask for a grant sounds like no moral responsibility is being taken…”
The minutes state the shared funding proposal was then suggested, but Commissioner Bill Rufenacht would agree only if a moratorium of five years is placed on Swanton requests for RLF grant money.
At their Feb. 16 session, six days before Swanton Village Council approved the proposal, the commissioners voted unanimously to contract directly with Midwest Contracting for an aluminum staircase for $21,400 and to approve the moratorium on the village. The minutes show Commissioner Paul Barnaby agreed to the moratorium with reservations, asking the other commissioners to not isolate the village.
Cieka said last Thursday he was not aware the commissioners had approved a moratorium.
“The village has spent almost $60,000 on cleaning up that building, of which they received $21,500 from county. So the village already has $38,497 in the project. The village is not shirking their responsibility,” he said.
Swanton Mayor Ann Roth said she has read the minutes and resolutions from the commissioners’ meetings of Jan 28 and Feb. 16. “I disagree with most of the statements made. I have consulted with Council President (Paul) Dzyak and we are asking for a meeting to set the record straight,” she said.
Rupp and Wright declined to comment. Rufenacht did not return a call requesting comment. Hall and Wright referred the Expositor to the commissioners’ agenda minutes for information.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.