2009-12-09 / Front Page

Delphi to begin fire clean-up

Reimbursement expected from property owner
By Debbie Lowe Staff writer

Although most city council members agree that taxpayers should not be saddled with the bill from the Nov. 25 fire that destroyed the Kerlin Building on S. Washington St., the City of Delphi will expend up to $50,000 to haul away debris and fill in the hole where the building once stood. It is not clear whether or not the building owners will be able to reimburse the city.

Adjoining buildings were damaged by water and smoke and although the flames were prevented from spreading to the buildings, residents suffered the loss of utilities and sanitary sewer service.

According to Delphi Mayor Randy Strasser at the Monday night meeting, it is imperative for the city to stabilize the fire site and make it a suitable platform to allow repair equipment to access the other damaged buildings from the rear. George Kerlin, who owns the property with family members in a trust, told council members that he is not able to pay for the work at the present time. He said that, after nearly two weeks, he had not solicited quotes for the work that needed to be done prior to the council meeting.

“I don’t have a bottom line figure about how much it will cost,” he said. “I just don’t know what to do.”

“I’m sitting here with my hands tied because I don’t have the money,” he added.

Strasser said the burned building site had to be excavated and debris hauled away. The hole, which was formerly the basement, would have to be filled. He said a common wall to the west must be torn down due to safety issues and the roof to an adjoining building must be removed and a wall removed to the first floor.

Strasser emphasized that all of the other work hinged on removal of the burned out building and the leveling of the site. He recommended the city adhere to a state unsafe building ordinance to ensure the safety of the tenants in the other buildings.

Attorney Kurtis Fouts advised the city could attempt to reach an agreement for reimbursement of expenses for needed work within a reasonable amount of time with Kerlin Building owners. He said if the plan failed, a legal remedy for reimbursement could be sought by the city.

City council members were urged by building owners affected by the fire to act quickly to resolve immediate issues so they could resume the use of utilities and sanitary sewers in their buildings.

The money for the initial clean-up activities will come from the Rainy Day Fund. According to the city clerk treasurer Leanne Aldridge the fund now contains $177,496.

Trash Removal

The consistency of interpretation and the application of the city’s trash removal ordinance enacted for 2009 was questioned by local residents and business owners Jeff and Krista Watson. Jeff Watson said that the couple has been unsuccessful in resolving issues with the mayor for several months. Although Watson requested action by the city council, Strasser said a proposal for resolution should be developed by the Watsons before any further discussion takes place.

Watson said that he did not understand why duplex housing on Wells St. owned by the couple was subject to the ordinance when what he considered similar housing units on Washington St. were not.

The Watsons own several properties in the city. They said they were not able to get a definitive answer whether the properties are considered commercial or residential from the mayor.

“I think every Joe and Bob ought to be treated fairly,” Watson said.

“We want to be fair and equal,” council president Carolyn Pearson said. “It’s just that we have to figure it out.”

Fouts suggested a clarification of the language was needed for the couple to understand why properties, which appear to be similar, are treated differently by the ordinance.

Council member Kyle Germond volunteered to meet with the couple and Fouts, with consensus agreement by all council members present, to fully investigate the claims made by the Watsons and to achieve a resolution to the matter. The meeting will be Dec. 16 at 8 a.m. at the city building.

Other business

An undergraduate aviation technology class from Purdue University, which was asked by the airport board to develop strategies for Delphi Airport growth, reported that the airport should establish its own Web site to market the resource and to provide information to transient pilots to entice them to make the airport a destination.

It is estimated the initial cost will be between $6,000-$6,500 for the digital service as well as the development and consistent distribution of a newsletter to aid communication.

Other needed improvements discussed include an instrument approach for an extended runway, a new terminal building and enhanced pilot services. The written version of the report will be given to airport manager Brian Stirm on Dec. 17.

Council members approved salary payments to Sgt. Brook McCain and officer Justin Wilson for unused compensatory and vacation time, although the exact amount of money in the police budget line items is unclear at this time. McCain will be paid for seven vacation days and Wilson for three plus 32.25 hours of compensatory time.

Department reports

Aldridge reported that she hired a part-time person to assist her to balance the city’s checkbooks. She said the fund balances are still not accurate but said “there is light at the end of the tunnel.” Aldridge reported that the Indiana State Board of Accounts will zero out any discrepancy in the accounts after the discrepancy remains the same for a period of months.

Utilities superintendent Dick VanSickle reported that water leaks, which lead to the loss of roughly 400,000 gallons of water per month, were repaired in November.

Parks superintendent Anita Force said the department received a $6,423 grant from the Northwest Indiana Solid Waste District for 12 double recycle trash cans constructed from recycled milk jugs.

Police chief Justin Darling said the department received 25 applications for the officer position currently open. He said three or four of the applicants are already trained at the academy, which would save the city training money as well as put the officer on the street sooner.

Darling reported the department’s report for November includes 45 traffic summons, 86 warnings, 2 felonies, 11 misdemeanors, 6 warrants, 19 crashes and one handgun application.

Fire chief Denny Randle said a significant amount of water over the course of four hours was used to fight the Kerlin Building fire the day before Thanksgiving.

He said the results of a brief fire hydrant inventory revealed that eight fire hydrants are in need of service, which could include replacement, or repairs. He said failure to maintain fire hydrants could result in slower firefighter reaction times, resulting in additional property loss.

The council will hold a special meeting Dec. 21 at 5:30 p.m. after the board of works meeting.

The next regularly scheduled city council meeting will be Jan. 4 at 7 p.m.

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