City property owners who host or allow a party to be hosted at their home where underage drinking takes place could now face fines or jail time under a new social host law passed by the City Council on Wednesday.
Property owners can be arrested under the new law if police believe the owner knew or should have reasonably known that underage drinking was taking place on the property but allowed it anyway.
Adults charged under the new law will face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 20 days in jail.
According to City Attorney Val Serbalik, violation of the social host law will be considered a misdemeanor offense.
“If we save one life, it’s well worth it,” Mayor Anthony Sylvester said. “We don’t want to even lose one life.”
The social host law was scheduled to be considered last month, but officials delayed the vote because they weren’t sure the public hearing for the law change had been properly advertised.
Accounts Commissioner Mark Seber said he researched it and found out that the city hadn’t properly advertised it.
“Me being a parent myself to a 20-year-old and a 14-year-old, I hold them accountable,” Mechanicville police Lt. Dave DeCelle said at Wednesday’s meeting. “I think it’s time that we start holding parents accountable.”
Mechanicville police said that they cited about 20 people between the ages of 15 and 20 for underage drinking in 2007.
Another 10 younger than 15 were referred to probation or back to their parents after being caught drinking last year.
Earlier this year, city police cited 25 youths and young adults with underage drinking after a neighbor complained about a party. The partiers that night ranged in age from 16 to 20.
Police have said that underage drinking can lead to negative consequences such as drug use and sexual aggression and it’s not enough for parents to just take their teenager’s car keys and allow them to drink at home.
“By us working together with the city, with the school district and with ourselves, it’s going to save someday from knocking on somebody’s door to notify them their child has recently been killed in a car accident or [died from] alcohol poisoning,” DeCelle added.
“We will be able to get this in the culture of the community, where underage drinking will not be acceptable,” Mechanicville High School Principal Michael Apostol said. “We’ll get the message to the parents and in turn we’ll get the message to the students.”
Similar social host laws have been passed or considered in other local areas such as Stillwater, Niskayuna, Gloversville and Johnstown.
In other city business, the City Council voted 3-1 to change the one-way direction of Leonard Street from northbound to southbound. The residential road intersects with the busy Saratoga Avenue at the south end of Leonard Street.
Previously, residents who lived on Leonard Street would have to travel north on Leonard Street and go around the block to the two-way Maple Avenue to get access to Saratoga Avenue. Some residents were concerned that the Maple and Saratoga avenues intersection was not safe due to sighting issues.
Some local residents believe that using Leonard Street to access Saratoga Avenue would be safer.
Emilia and Nick Izzo live on nearby Mulberry Avenue, and they said they regularly use Maple Avenue to access Saratoga Avenue. The couple collected a petition with more than 20 signatures from residents near Leonard Street asking for the change.
“It took us almost two years, but at least it got done,” Emilia Izzo said after the meeting.
Serbalik said it will take about two weeks before the change is put into effect because it has to first be advertised.
Public Works Commissioner Jack Messore voted against the measure, saying that the local residents in favor of the change represent only a small part of the 5,000 residents in Mechanicville. Public Safety Commissioner Jo Ann Rielly was not at Wednesday’s meeting.
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