It Needs To Be Clear What Taxpayers Are Signing Up To Pay

How does it make sense for Jamestown, in the midst of a pandemic, to be spending $700,000 to tear down substandard housing so that the Gateway Lofts project can proceed?

We’re glad council member Jeff Russell, R-At Large, and Grant Olson, R-Ward 5, asked that question on Monday, because the council’s decision, coming at this particular point in time, leaves us scratching our heads.

When a new Gateway Lofts plan was broached back in January, the plan was to demolish 21 houses at a cost of $350,000 as part of a mitigation plan to add housing units to a city that has a glut of them. It costs roughly $14,000 to demolish a house, which means the STEL funding discussed in January would have been sufficient.

By July, the focus had shifted from the number of houses to be demolished to the number of bedrooms to be taken out of the housing market. Depending on the number of bedrooms in a house, it doesn’t appear the STEL funding will cover the 96 bedrooms unless many of the homes have four bedrooms. Focusing on four-bedroom homes would mean 24 houses could be demolished at a total cost of $350,000. Demolishing 32 three-bedroom homes puts the project over budget by about $100,000.

Russell estimated the cost to be about $1 million, which means the councilman is assuming a lot of one- or two-bedroom homes being demolished or the cost of demolition being higher than previously discussed.

If STEL’s money will only cover a portion of the called upon housing demolition, who pays and from what pot of money? When would these demolitions have to be done to meet the mitigation contract? That’s not in the resolution nor, to our knowledge, has it been discussed publicly. As we all know by now, Jamestown can’t raise taxes, and Jamestown officials have talked for years about how the number of demolitions in the city is limited by the cost.

It is apparent that the city should focus on three- and four-bedroom homes for demolition to bring the cost in as close to the STEL payment as possible. That preference should have been reflected in the resolution. And, the resolution should have reflected how the local cost would be paid if the demolitions cost more than STEL is paying.

The city may in fact have thought of these things, but the paper trail doesn’t reflect it. Mayor Eddie Sundquist should hold off on signing this resolution until it is clear who is paying for the demolitions, from what pot of money and on what timeline. It would be even more preferable if the council would pass an amended resolution to clear up the valid questions raised by Olson and Russell so that the resolution is clear what taxpayers are signing up to pay.


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