Schenectady County

City may post property owners’ names online

It might diminish privacy, but residents have so frequently demanded an online list of city property
PHOTOGRAPHER:

It might diminish privacy, but residents have so frequently demanded an online list of city property owners that the Schenectady City Council is now considering it.

Years ago, residents could learn owners’ names, addresses and property assessment values at the click of a mouse on the Schenectady County Library Web site. But the assessor’s office stopped updating the information in 2000, and the library pulled the Web page in 2005. At the time, assessor Anthony Popolizio said the library wasn’t updating the data quickly enough.

Since then, however, city officials have decided to keep the data offline because of privacy.

“It’s an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden told the council at Monday’s committees meeting.

But Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard argued that residents want to know who owns the property in their neighborhood. Council members said they are routinely called by residents who want to track down landlords and tell them about their misbehaving tenants, figure out who is responsible for garbage left out too early or contact an absentee owner about code violations.

As the city heads into the second year of its reassessment project, some residents also want assessment values so they can compare their assessment to their neighbor’s and grieve if they believe their house is assessed unfairly. That was the original purpose of the library’s online assessment database.

“Everybody liked the way the library did it,” Blanchard said.

She questioned Van Norden’s insistence that posting the data in a simple list would be a violation of residents’ privacy. He told her that the library’s list could be used by corporations to deluge residents with unsolicited mail.

“My concern would be if you published the list … they would then have it at their fingertips,” Van Norden said. “They could copy it, download it, and send out a mass mailing.”

He acknowledged that many municipalities already put assessment data online. His family home, which he uses as a vacation house, can be found on the Essex County Web site.

“I’m quite personally offended that my assessment records are available for the public to see on the Internet,” he said.

He read the council a state statute that said releasing address lists to companies that might sell them or profit from them is an invasion of privacy.

After the meeting, he said that statute doesn’t mean the council can’t post the addresses online. It’s not one of the prohibited actions listed in connection to the statute.

However, he said, the council should at least warn residents before placing their names and addresses online.

But Blanchard didn’t seem to realize that the city could go ahead with the list. After he read the statute — but not the list of prohibited actions — she said, “All right, we’re at an impasse here,” and ended the discussion.

There is another option.

Names of property owners can be found by searching the deeds on the Schenectady County land records Web site, but residents can’t simply type in an address to search the database, as they could on the library site.

The information is filed by section, block and lot. To translate a street address into the city’s mapping code, residents must go to the county Web site, click on “eGov services” and then select Real Property Assessment Data. They can type in the street address to get the mapping code and other information about the property. The only problem is that the site isn’t up-to-date on ownership changes — for the most current information, residents need to copy down the mapping code, go to the county’s online records site — http://landrecords.schenectadycounty.com — and plug the code in to see the latest deeds.

PARK LAND DISCUSSION

In other business, a routine action involving the proposed comprehensive plan turned into a lively debate about developing park land.

The plan still includes a sentence saying that the city should “consider” developing a piece of parkland near the municipal golf course, Zoning Officer Steve Strichman said.

The city has a parks maintenance shed on that parcel, and some residents say the shed and surrounding grounds are an eyesore. Others, however, are adamantly opposed to selling any park land.

Blanchard and Councilman Joseph Allen objected as soon as they heard the offending sentence was still in the plan.

“I thought it was a dead issue,” Allen said. “I thought we had, and the neighbors had also shot it down. They want it to be what it is — park land.”

Strichman repeatedly assured them that they could still protect the parcel when they vote on the plan.

“That’s your final call,” he said. “If you want it out, it’s out.”

Blanchard immediately said, “I want it out.”

But Mayor Brian U. Stratton and Councilmen Mark Blanchfield and Gary McCarthy spoke in favor of the wording.

Stratton said residents near the golf course agreed to the wording at a comprehensive plan meeting. He stressed that the plan doesn’t say the land must be developed at once — just that it could be, if an acceptable project were proposed.

Blanchfield added that even then, the city would have to go through a lengthy process to sell park land.

“State law requires so many checks. This is just one step,” he said.

McCarthy called the parcel “really a disgrace” and questioned whether it was valuable park land.

“If you go to that quote-unquote ‘park land,’ that’s not park land. That’s been a dumping ground for so long,” he said.

Reach Gazette reporter Kathleen Moore at 395-3120 or [email protected]

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