Niagara Gazette

May 20, 2013

Fire inspector job debated in the Town of Niagara

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — TOWN OF NIAGARA — Town board members are considering hiring a part-time fire inspector under a plan some of them say is needed to keep up on inspections.

Board members discussed the new position — which would be contracted work, not requiring the town to provide benefits — during a council work session Thursday evening.

Town Supervisor Steve Richards said the new position is necessary because the building inspections department, which is responsible for fire inspections, has not been able to perform enough of them.

“At the end of the day, inspections have to be done and they’re not being done,” Richards said.

The building inspections department’s man hours were drastically reduced at the beginning of the year, with three full-time employees being slashed to one full-time clerk and a part-time inspector working 18 hours a week.

Richards said even last year, with three employees, the department was not accomplishing as much as it should have.

Councilman Dan Sklarski said the inspections department did 237 fire inspections in 2012, keeping up with the average pace, but 132 of them were done in the Sabre Park mobile home community, where many of the homes have been condemned or demolished in anticipation of the Fashion Outlets of Niagara expansion.

Inspectors also conducted 73 inspections as part of scheduled building inspections and 32 random inspections.

Sklarski said the building inspectors were not performing enough random inspections.

“There’s no excuse by the building inspections department when it’s a safety issue,” he said. “It has to get done.”

And by contracting out the work the town will make money, according to Richards and Sklarski. The inspection fees will bring in more money than the contract will pay out, Richards said.

“He can bring revenue into the town,” Richards said.

The town has interviewed four candidates for the position, but final contracts have not been drawn up, officials said.

Councilman Rob Clark views the slashing of the building inspections department and the contracting out of work previously done within the department as an attack on him, as he is friends with Jeffrey Stahlman, the assistant building inspector who lost his job.

Richards and Clark have been at odds over a number of issues in recent months. During Thursday’s meeting, Clark suggested the proposed changes in inspections had more to do with personalities than sound management of town business. 

Clark said he is friends with most of the people who work for the town.

“Why would we want to hire an inspector when we already had a fire inspector on the payroll?” Clark asked.

Sklarski dismissed the question.

“We’re not here to debate that,” he said. “We’re here to put the position in place.”

Richards said the cuts to the building inspections department made during last year’s budget process were necessary because the department did not have enough work to warrant two inspectors. Only one new home was built in the town in 2012.

Tempers flared at times during the meeting, with Clark and Richards both yelling over one another while making accusations, continuing the long-standing rivalry between the officials.

Clark said the inspectors were keeping up with fire inspections, completing 237 last year, but spent most of their time in Sabre Park because Sklarski, the town’s liaison to the building inspections department as appointed by Richards, instructed them to do so.

And now, with two full-time inspectors being cut to one part-time inspector, it is unreasonable to expect the same amount of work to be done, Clark said.

“How are they supposed to (complete inspections) on 18 hours?” Clark said.

Richards accused Clark of turning the hire into a “political football,” putting their disputes before the safety of residents.

“Put our differences aside,” Richards said. “You think of the residents or the people working and living in our town.”

With mug of Richards, Steve Steve Richards Supports hiring

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257