Contractors waiting for pay from Shamokin
SHAMOKIN - Two contractors who finished clearing debris from the site of last year's building collapse on North Shamokin Street are livid they haven't yet been paid in full.
City clerk Steve Bartos says he sympathizes with them, but he's continuing to work with state and federal agencies to receive permission to use state grant funding to make the payments.
The outcome of that request, he said, could impact municipal entities across the state when dealing with emergency building collapses.
City council voted in January to pay a combined $101,973.45 to four contractors who worked at 709-715 N. Shamokin St. pending "approval and release" of state Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds.
An initial request was denied by the state in August, with the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) finding that since an environmental review wasn't performed on the building, it was ineligible for CDBG funds. It didn't matter that the building, while tabbed for demolition, suddenly collapsed.
Bartos said DCED has since reconsidered the request following conversations with administrators of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That reconsideration has come after council's January vote.
"DCED's decision not to allow the use of these funds has negatively impacted the city and created an unprecedented situation," Mayor George Rozinskie stated in a letter mailed Feb. 20 to a department administrator.
That the state is reconsidering the funding request is no relief for Stan Vowler and Vince Madonna.
Vowler and his son, Mitchell, of Forrester Environmental Inc., Bloomsburg, were frustrated Monday after a city council meeting. The Vowlers have not yet been paid any of the $42,816.34 they originally billed the city. They've since submitted "past due" invoices with interest accrued, with an April bill totaling $45,922.53. Another invoice was expected to be sent in a matter of days.
Stan Vowler said Bartos told him he'd be paid after January when tax revenue was collected, but that hasn't happened. Vowler said he's received "no straight answer" about when he can expect to be paid.
"This is ridiculous," he said Monday. Asked if he expects the money any time soon, he said, "it's not looking good."
On Wednesday, Vowler said, "If I don't hear from (Bartos) by the end of the day today, my plans are to give him five days to pay me. If I'm not paid within five days ... I will call my attorney and start processing a lawsuit with the City of Shamokin."
Madonna, of Madonna Enterprises, Port Carbon, was paid half of the $25,600 invoice he submitted in December and he's agitated that he hasn't received the rest.
Lycoming County landfill, Montgomery, is owed $21,787.11 for accepting 336.22 tons of debris. PPL Electric Utilities is owed $11,770 for its services during the June 15 collapse, including disconnecting a power line that posed a hazard during demolition. Neither firm has been paid.
Bartos said conflicting demolition regulations for HUD and EPA has lead to the issue surrounding the potential use of CDBG funds.
He said EPA's requirements supersede any DCED regulations regarding CDBG funds that were initially cited in the August denial.
"The CDBG procurement process is in direct conflict with EPA's environmental regulatory requirements on immediate demolition and removal of waste potentially contaminated with asbestos," according to the mayor's letter.
Also, Bartos said there's a matter of ownership. Northumberland County is the trustee of the buildings since it was up for unpaid taxes, so he said the city could have some responsibility in making restitution.
"We're a municipality. We're not the owner of record of the property," Bartos said.
When the city ordered an emergency tear-down of the property in June, it was done to protect the public's safety because parts of the building could have fallen onto the sidewalk and into Shamokin Street.
Vowler said since the city ordered the demolition, federal regulations require the city to be responsible for the costs of demolition.
Work on the site stopped in June when conflicts over the scope of work developed between the city and the original contractor, Robert Gusick Demolition, with whom the city is currently in litigation in county court. The site remained dormant until Oct. 31 when EPA ordered the city fully clean up the site amid concerns of asbestos at the site. Madonna, Fowler and the rest were part of the ultimate cleanup.
If DCED again denies the city's request, Bartos said the mayor and councilmen must study where to find the funds to pay the contractors.
The mayor said in his letter that the city can't bear the financial or legal burdens of dealing with emergency demolitions, especially if CDBG funds are not permitted to be used. EPA said the city can't wait for funds to complete such projects.
The "only alternative," the mayor's letter states, is to allow the burden to fall on the shoulders of the county, state and federal governments.
The city and DCED have discussed inventorying buildings in danger of collapse to avoid future funding and regulatory conflicts in event of emergency, and an intern from Bloomsburg University was hired Monday at minimum wage to perform the legwork.
Bartos said the intern's work will comply with DCED guidelines, but a more thorough review of the buildings must be done to satisfy EPA. Funding for such a review, he said, is another in a long line of issues.