Private demolition contractors say the city of Rock Hill is taking their business.
Competition from the city, and a bad economy, are forcing them to sell equipment, lay off workers, and in one case, likely go out of business, contractors said.
They are upset the city won a $64,165 contract from Comporium to tear down the former King funeral home, the Hiers-Clarkson building and small garage. The demolition is the first step in developing Downtown East, a park and mixed-use development.
If contractors had submitted a no-profit bid for the project, it would have been between $98,000 and $100,000 to break even, they said.
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City officials said their bid was based on years of estimating experience and using machines to tear down the buildings. Several contractors said they had budgeted for some manual demolition because of the proximity of the Hiers-Clarkson building to the historic Barnes home. The distance between the buildings was about four feet.
Comporium, which is partnering with the city to develop the park, owned the buildings. The company solicited bids and paid for the demolition.
Comporium asked the city to bid, and "they were the low bidder," said Glenn McFadden, the company's executive vice president and chief operating officer.
City crews did a good job, McFadden said. The Barnes home sustained minor damage to a gutter and landscaping.
"They were just another bidder to us," McFadden said.
City manager David Vehaun and Ray Koterba, director of the Housing and Neighborhood Services, said it is unusual for the city to bid on a private project.
"Typically, that's not what we do. We don't look for jobs," Koterba said. At first, "we did not know others would be asked to bid. ... It wasn't made clear to us until we found out others were bidding."
Koterba said one difference between the city's bid and private bids is that the city is not in the business of making money. No profit was included in its bid.
The city's bid does include wages, necessary permits and disposal fees. He said the city pays the same disposal fee as private companies do. The city does not charge to "stage" or move equipment to a job site, a charge private companies often include, he said.
Vehaun said Comporium is an important partner for the city on this and other projects.
"In the future, we will make sure we are not competing against other folks. We will take that into account," he said.
The city's explanation did not satisfy Dennis Googe, owner of Wade's Trucking & Utilities Inc.
"They are breaking the law," Googe said. "They are supposed to maintain what they have. They are not supposed to be bidding on private projects."
Googe bid $161,000 to tear down the buildings, the highest of several private bids. Matthews Construction Co. bid $98,000, and F.E. Fairey bid $127,000.
"I don't agree with it; it should be illegal," said Frank Fairey, owner of F.E. Fairey. "We don't have tax dollars backing us."
Googe, Fairey and Jimmy Matthews, owner of Mathews Construction Co., said finding work is challenging in a struggling economy. Competing against the city makes it even more difficult.
Fairey, who runs a three-person operation, said his business has shrunk dramatically during the recession. Before the economy sank, he worked for 10 contractors and had enough jobs for every day of the week. Now, he is getting sporadic work from one contractor.
"I guess I will sell everything I've got and go out of business," Fairey said.
He said he likely would have reached that decision regardless of the bid on the Comporium building. But had he been chosen for the job, "I might have been able to hang on another two or three months."
Matthews said he let five employees go after not getting the Comporium job. Before the economy soured, his firm employed 75 workers. He now has 16. Googe said work has dried up in South Carolina. His firm now works on North Carolina projects, he said.
Googe also complained about the city's ongoing program which demolished residential housing. He said the city's math does not add up.
For several years, the city has used its own crews to demolish housing which would require finances equal to at least 50 percent of its value to renovate. Usually these are derelict houses, Koterba said.
The houses are condemned and the owner notified.
"Almost always, they are vacant," Koterba said.
If the owner meets income guidelines, the city will tear down the house and charge $350. If the owner does not meet the guidelines, the typical price of demolition is $2,800.
The cost of demolition of housing is based on size and the type of materials. Brick, concrete and metal can be recycled, reducing the cost. Googe said his cost to demolish a 1,500- to 1,800-square foot home is about $5,000, with landfill fees accounting for about $3,000.
"The taxpayers buy the equipment; they buy the fuel. There is no way to compete against that," Googe said.
Concerns over the city's demolition work, as well as how city and state regulations affect development, were raised during a recent meeting held by state Rep. Ralph Norman. Norman said a second meeting is planned to address issues with the city, as well as the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Bids submitted for demolition
Bids for demolishing the King funeral home, the Hiers-Clarkson building and small garage on East Main Street, according to the city and private demolition companies.
City of Rock Hill$64,165
Wade's Trucking & Utilities Inc.$161,000