Amsterdam alderman wants workers cited

Alderman William Wills, D-4th Ward, said Wednesday that he wanted to put the city’s three code enfor

Alderman William Wills, D-4th Ward, said Wednesday that he wanted to put the city’s three code enforcement officers on notice, one of the first steps toward action against the union members.

The response came one day after a city Codes Committee meeting where members of the Common Council were told for a second time that the department did not have written documentation as to its actions for the past month.

“We’re not asking for a lot of documentation, just simple reports like what did you do this month?” Wills said. “If they can’t even produce that, then they are suspect of doing nothing.”

As an elected official, Wills can’t formally put the three code enforcement officers on notice. Only their supervisors, City Engineer Richard Phillips and Mayor Ann Thane, have the power to do that.

Phillips said he doesn’t think the city’s blight problems are a result of the city’s code enforcement officers slacking off.

“You look around at these problems with old buildings and it’s easy to think of it as an issue with codes, but it’s not that simple,” he said.

Phillips said a lot of the problem is the legal process the city has to go through to get corrective action against code violators. Many of the city’s dilapidated properties belong to people who don’t live in the city. Serving these people means filing an action in state Supreme Court, which costs $300 according to Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis.

“To get corrective acts and see results is a long battle with owners who don’t even live here,” Phillips said.

“This is not a mill where you can just run them through,” Plumbing Inspector Irwin Harnish said.

Harnish said it is usually the same people who violate codes repeatedly. He said sometimes one property will require multiple visits because there are multiple code violations.

Each time someone violates codes, Harnish said, it could take hours to find the right section of the law to cite, serve the citation and then any number of months or days before the person complies with the law or is brought to court.

Phillips said he is looking to implement a new system of reporting and tracking cases, which is why he was unable to provide that information to the Common Council when asked Tuesday.

DeCusatis said he is working with the members of the Codes Department to train them to use the citations that take the least amount of time to complete. For example, if an officer cites the property maintenance code for overgrown vegetation rather than the city’s vegetation code it could take longer for that issue to be resolved.

DeCusatis said he is also tweaking the language in the city’s code enforcement laws to ensure that a case is resolved once it goes to trial.

Thane said besides issues with training and updating of city laws, the problem with the Codes Department lies with poor time management and limited resources.

“There are a lot of properties and a limited amount of staff,” Thane said. “It’s really a state[wide] problem. Every upstate city is facing the same situation, it’s not just Amsterdam.”

Categories: Schenectady County

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