City council approves mayor's $40,000 request to demo former Jerry's Body Shop building
The former business Jerry’s Body Shop is shown soon after its front brick facade collapsed to the sidewalk at the northwest corner of East Washington and State streets the night of Oct. 10.
The Sullivan City Council voted unanimously to provide $40,000 additional appropriation to allow the city to demolish a partially collapsed building deemed a public safety hazard during its meeting on Tuesday.
The building which formally housed Jerry’s Body Shop, located at 20 E. Washington Street, saw a large portion of its brick facade crash down to the sidewalk the night of Oct. 10. After unsuccessful efforts to work with the building’s owner, Jerry Tomey, the city finally interceded.
“The administration has tried to talk with Mr. Tomey about doing the cleanup,” Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb said. “We finally last week got the bricks picked up off the sidewalk from October.”
Lamb mentioned Brian Pound, the city’s building commissioner, had talked with the owner previously about 18 abandoned vehicles in the building for a number of years which has since been abated per city ordinance.
“But when the front of the building falls on the sidewalk in the middle of downtown … It’s been seven full months and I haven’t seen any efforts to abate the nuisance on the property owner,” Lamb said.
The mayor added the building next door is now leaning “and (Tomey) owns it too.” Lamb said sometime in February or March, after four months trying to work with Tomey, the city officially condemned the building.
The mayor explained he always puts in for demolition money when he prepares his budget, with the council approving $20,000 this year to demo all the city’s condemned buildings.
“We obviously have more than $20,000 worth of problems that need demolished,” Lamb said. “But we try to work with the property owners until we absolutely can’t. Then we do the enforcement.
“To abate the nuisance at Jerry’s Body Shop, it’s going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $40,000 for just that property. To tear it down and clean it up,” he informed the council.
Council president Gene Bonham asked if Tomey still owns the property, which the mayor replied yes.
Lamb said if this demolition moves forward, the city would send Tomey the bill, saying, “If he doesn’t pay it, it will go on the property taxes.
“I’m very proud of the fact in the eight years I’ve served (as mayor), not one time have I ever asked for an additional appropriation,” he continued. “But this evening I’m formally coming before the city council.”
Lamb said the city does have cash reserves available — about $280,000 when he came into office eight years ago and is now approximately $700,000.
Councilman John Ellington mentioned Tomey being a long-time resident of Sullivan.
“But I understand, it’s an issue that’s not going to be taken care of unless the city does something about it,” he said. “I perfectly understand that and agree with you.”
Ellington asked where the city is at with getting this building removed.
Council attorney Doug Followell said he talked to Tomey last week, telling him he had to get something done and was catching a lot of flack for that pile of bricks on the sidewalk.
“He’s real hard to please and I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere trying to work something out,” Followell said, noting the building has fallen in on two different occasions.
Followell said he advised Tomey if the building was torn down, he’d have a nice empty lot which might be marketable. He mentioned possible usages with the jail looking to rebuild or expand, parking or a government annex.
“I told him ‘Right now it’s just a big liability the way it’s set up. You can’t fix it. Nobody is going to pay a thing for it. So it’s got to come down. There’s no way to patch it up,’” Followell said. “He’ll never do it himself, that’s just the real world.”
Bonham stated paying $40,000 would be a small cost compared to what it might cost if somebody were to be injured.
“I think without question we should go ahead and do it,” he said.
Councilman Scott Brown asked why did the city let this go on for seven months.
“Talking to him, I’m going to get it done, I don’t have the money,” Lamb replied. “I was there that evening. I said, ‘Jerry, this is bad.’"
The mayor said Tomey said to him then "Well, it happened at 10:30 at night" to which Lamb replied "It could have happened at 2 in the afternoon.
“By the grace of God it happened at 10:30,” Lamb said.
The council quickly approved the $40,000 additional appropriation — going from cash reserves to the demolition line item. Voting in favor 5-0 were Bonham, Ellington, Brown, Raymond Pirtle and Steve Martindale.
For more information on Tuesday’s council meeting, see a future edition of the Times.