There’s a pack of 10 residents running for four seats on the City Council.
Four Democrats, four members of the new Alliance Party — most of whom are also endorsed by the Republicans — one Republican and one write-in candidate are competing for the seats.
They all want to improve the neighborhoods — a promise that has been the theme of at least the last two elections. So far, little progress has been made.
This time, the candidates are split, even within their own party, on how to accomplish that goal. Some say a crackdown on minor crimes should be the first step, while others want to fix up the city’s housing stock. Still others say the city should focus on bringing in new businesses, or work with volunteer groups to clean up the neighborhoods, or simply cut taxes by slashing the budget.
Alliance member Vince Riggi wants to put a stop to all the little things that he believes drive residents out of Schenectady: the littering, the graffiti, the noise and the neighbor-vs-neighbor confrontations that escalate over any complaints.
“I’d like to see our police department directed to enforce these laws,” Riggi said. “Believe me, I realize they’re dealing with much bigger things, but I’m a firm believer that these lead to bigger things. These young people, they need to be taught.”
He suspects that if police enforce the minor laws, they’ll find major criminal infractions in the process, just as New York City officers discovered when they started ticketing jaywalkers.
“If it can be done in New York City, it certainly can be done here,” Riggi said.
Republican Heather Dukes also wants to bring in more homeowners by getting rid of criminals. It’s cyclical, she says.
“Clean up the streets, you attract more homeowners, which brings in more businesses.”
She’d start by trying to nip criminal behavior in the bud by directing police to issue tickets for minor offenses.
“If we target it at the onset, I believe that reduces criminal behavior,” she said.
She also wants to add more officers, primarily through grants, though she acknowledges that it would cost the city more money.
“I believe it is worth it,” she said of the cost. “I think Schenectady can’t afford not to make this a priority.
Democrat Denise Brucker is focusing on housing. Having recently learned that vacant homes usually cannot be insured, she wants to pass legislation requiring such owners to take out a bond to cover the cost of demolition if there’s a fire.
Too often, she said, it’s the uninsured houses that burn — and then sit there, abandoned, for years.
She’s also enthusiastic about the changes in code enforcement that make it easier for owners to get permits.
“All of those seem small, but they really do make a difference in people doing business with the city,” she said.
She intends to support the new land bank idea, as well, in which the city would buy vacant houses, sell the valuable ones and use the money to demolish the ones that are too far gone to save.
Democrat Leesa Perazzo wants to push for the creation of a city land bank, too.
“I have tremendous faith and excitement about the land bank legislation,” she said. “I plan to work very hard to see it come to fruition.”
She also wants to use her experience working with businesses for the last 25 years to update City Hall customer service.
“I’m not saying it’s bad, but everybody can always say they can do better,” she said, “become a little more customer-friendly, a little more responsive, a little more streamlined and a little nicer.”
She doesn’t think the city’s high taxes will keep prospective buyers away. After all, she said, she chose to buy here.
“I have everything I want right here in my community,” she said, ticking off a list that included concerts, plays, nature and sports.
Alliance member Madrea Chaires also wants to get rid of Schenectady’s vacant homes.
“I would like to figure out a way to either rehab the homes or, if we’re not able, demolish them,” she said.
She knows all too well the problems with vacant buildings. The house near her grandmother’s on Hamilton Hill has been empty for more than seven years, boarded up and abandoned.
“The taxes are fully paid, but he’s not required to maintain it,” she said. “That’s obviously a hazard to everyone. It gets broken into a lot. Kids go in there a lot.”
She likes ideas proposed by both the Alliance Party — a tuition incentive for new homeowners — and the Democrats’ marketing effort with KeyBank to provide mortgages bundled with loans for repairs.
Alliance member Jacquie Hurd wants to use City Hall to empower neighborhood associations to begin making real improvements in their neighborhoods.
She envisions a task force that would help neighborhood groups file for nonprofit status, raise money, plan painting parties and organize cleanups.
“Help the neighborhoods form strong organizations,” Hurd said. “Each neighborhood could look at the types of problems they could do something about.”
The task force would also report quarterly to the neighborhoods on the city’s progress with code enforcement, demolition and other large tasks. That might keep the city focused on those issues, she said.
She also wants to help business corridors form business improvement districts, following in the footsteps of the one that has been so successful on Upper Union Street.
Democrat Margaret King is also focusing on bringing in businesses.
“We’ve got to increase the tax base,” she said.
She wants to redevelop lower State Street, the next focus in the downtown.
“It definitely needs a lot,” she said. “I think that’s when you’re going to see the downtown [improvements] spreading into the neighborhoods. Lower State Street is going to enhance the Stockade area. The Alco development is going to benefit east Front Street.”
To bring in homeowners, the focus now must be on marketing the city, she said.
“Buy something far cheaper here, no commute. Be part of a vibrant community,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of great restaurants, arts and entertainment. We’ve got the benefits of a big city, but we’re not so huge.”
Alliance member Phil Tiberio is hoping to lower taxes by making life easier for business owners.
Tiberio, who runs his own business, said City Hall needs better computerization “so you don’t have to run around to 15 different places to get a [business] permit.”
As a member of the Zoning Board of Appeals, Tiberio saw many businesses fail within a few months of opening. City Hall should offer counseling and mentoring to help new business owners get ready for the big day, he said.
“Make sure they have their eyes open as to what will be required of them. There’s codes, there’s zoning,” he said.
And it wouldn’t hurt to speed up the process at the same time, he added.
“I’d like to see it easier for people as far as permitting, getting them open quicker,” he said.
Write-in candidate Mary McClaine wants to cut taxes too — by cutting perks out of the budget.
“Take out all of the nice-to-have things we can’t afford,” she said.
Code enforcement cars and other non-emergency passenger vehicles should be sold, she said, citing savings in gasoline, insurance and maintenance.
“It would be cheaper to pay them 50 cents a mile,” she said, adding that employees should no longer expect the public sector’s version of a company car.
“They’re spoiled,” she said. “Get used to it. [Using a personal car] happens all the time in the private sector.”
She also wants department heads to use their own cellphones and said City Council members should give up their health insurance because they are part-time elected officials.
Democrat John Mootooveren was the only candidate who did not give an interview on his goals. However, his written materials emphasize his fiscal experience, which he said could cut costs and lower taxes.
“As an accountant, I have the knowledge and experience to make meaningful changes,” he wrote.
He wants to renegotiate labor contracts and seek concessions from the unions to cut costs, while also increasing efficiency wherever possible and working with the county and school district to achieve savings of scale.
On the revenue side, he wants to more aggressively pursue delinquent taxpayers, he said.
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Categories: Schenectady County