WARREN - City officials held a special meeting Monday afternoon to discuss plans to demolish 127 properties using the Moving Ohio Forward grant funds.
Approved by the Attorney General's Office, the grant allocates $1 million for demolitions around the city.
Administration officials have come under fire recently for conducting just one demolition since the agreement was signed in September. The demolitions must meet the Jan. 1, 2014, deadline in order for the city to receive the full grant. The grant money is comprised of $500,000 from the state and a $500,000 local match.
Mayor Doug Franklin said he's willing to shoulder the blame if it means moving on with the project.
"No one is more disappointed that we haven't been able to tear down the houses that we want to," Franklin said. "If it gets us past this process, I'm willing to take responsibility for that."
Franklin said while there is a tight deadline, the city will meet the challenge. His administration has been working closely with the Trumbull County Landbank and Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership to target homes suffering from fire damage or those considered high crime structures.
"I think I've corrected some of the things internally that helped bog that process down," Franklin said. "We do have a plan and I know it's doable, but we have to stay on this. We've taken several steps to make sure that we're aggressively getting those houses that are in the pipeline."
Demolition will begin July 8 on the first batch of 16 houses, officials said, which are comprised of fire damaged structures. Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said that is just the first group of fire damaged homes in Warren.
"That is just something that we felt we could jump on quickly and be within the realm of what the AG's office had told the community development department," Cantalamessa said. "That doesn't mean that is the only 16 fire damaged structures, just the first 16."
Part of the problem, according to officials, is approving the homes with the attorney general's office. Instead of the city being provided a lump sum of money, it is reimbursed by the state after the demolition is completed. As a result, the city had to supply the state with a priority map of those properties targeted for demolition.
"We needed to be sure, if we had to move a home up the priority list for whatever reason, are they going to reimburse us if they don't fall neatly into that priority map," Cantalamessa said. "We don't have the money in our general fund to cover it. We've now been made comfortable in the belief that we will be reimbursed."
Franklin said an extension is always possible, but he's working on the understanding that the 2014 deadline will not be moved.
"I have been told there is going to be no extension, so my orders have been to proceed as if there's not going to be an extension," Franklin said. "We need to put all of our resources and strategies into making sure we spend every dime of that money."
In addition to the 16 structures scheduled to begin July 8, officials said 25 more demolitions will be put out to bid July 15, while 22 new properties were just approved for demolition by the Warren Board of Health.
"Then, we have 47 that remain to be tested for asbestos," Cantalamessa said. "We may have to bring in additional testers for those 47 to expedite the process."
According to officials, demolitions of homes with asbestos removal cost between $8,000 and $10,000.