UTICA — From now on, you might want to take the stairs.

A recent state audit was heavily critical of the city’s inspections process for elevators, indicating the situation is dangerous and a legal liability for the city.

For instance, auditors visited 39 buildings in March that had a total of 61 elevators. Forty-six of those elevators did not have the required documentation of inspections.

“City officials have failed to ensure elevators and related equipment in the city are being inspected,” states the audit from the office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. “Finally, due to lack of monitoring, city officials do not know if building owners are in compliance with the code.”

But city officials have criticism of their own, saying the state requires inspections it used to do itself without providing any extra funding.

“I don’t know where the state expects where we’re going to get all this manpower from,” city Mayor David Roefaro said. “So we’re going to do the best we can with the manpower we have.”

Ironically, Roefaro traveled to Albany last week with several other mayors to meet DiNapoli and lobby against unfunded mandates.

The audit took place during the roughly seven-month period when the Fire Department oversaw the Codes Department. That merger was undone in late August by Roefaro.

Among the findings:

* City officials do not monitor and enforce the inspection of elevators and related equipment in the city.

* Officials do not have a system to inventory and track all elevators so they can be inspected and tested.

* The city does not track nor follow up on inspections and tests already performed.

Six elevator audits were released publicly recently by DiNapoli’s office, and Binghamton, Poughkeepsie and Troy were all criticized in a manner similar to Utica. Buffalo and Elmira were also audited.

Former codes head Raymond Beck, the city’s chief fire marshal, wrote a letter in response to the audit in which he said the city agreed with most of the state’s assertions.

He took issue, however, with the point that officials do not monitor or enforce inspections, pointing out commercial inspections include elevators.

The state responded that those inspections happen every three years, while elevator inspections are to be done every six months.

Beck, who could not be reached for comment, also said the city would strictly enforce the inspection of elevators and equipment in accordance with the code and would establish policy and procedures consistent with the code. He said the city has already established an elevator inventory.

Robert Palmieri, who was named to replace Beck as codes commissioner, said he wasn’t familiar with the issue until the audit was released. He said he plans to meet with fire officials to “address it immediately.”

“I need to look at what we need to do,” he said. “What’s the cost factor?”

He also said he wants to look at the systems in place in Buffalo and Elmira.

“I would like to find out what they’re doing without bringing in additional people and how we can do it to achieve that goal of the mandate by New York state,” he said.
Copyright 2010 The Observer-Dispatch, Utica, New York. Some rights reserved