By Pete DeMola/Gazette Reporter
Loud music, fireworks and revving dirt bikes are all chronic issues in the city.
Now, while City Council members want to crack down on actual enforcement by outfitting city police with data sheets chronicling locations where complaints have piled up, little action has been taken.
“We continue to get calls to the same residences,” said city Councilman Ed Kosiur. “Numerous, numerous calls.”
City Code contains a point system for violations.
For instance, prostitution, gambling and marijuana-related offenses each carry six points.
Noise and animal complaints have three, as well as reports of fighting and lewdness.
If 12 or more points are accumulated within a year, or 18 or more within 24 months, the city can deem the location a public nuisance.
That would entail city Mayor Gary McCarthy to call for a public hearing that could end in punitive action, including the city pulling a location’s certificate of use or temporarily closing the location to abate the nuisance.
It’s unclear how the code would apply to residences — not private businesses.
“I think this is something to really try to enforce and give officers the support they need in the streets,” Kosiur said.
City Council President John Mootooveren said he forwards complaints from residents directly to McCarthy.
City police didn’t respond on Tuesday when asked if they’ve seen a recent uptick in property nuisances and calls.
McCarthy asked lawmakers to immediately provide City Hall a list of problem properties and their addresses.
“I’ll give you a detailed report about what’s been done with those locations,” McCarthy said.
City Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo pointed at existing legislation she crafted to address nuisances at landlord-owned properties, which was based on legislation drafted by the city Corporation Counsel and Mayor’s offices to crack down on the bodegas that once served as crime magnets.
Reports are easy to get, Perazzo said.
“It’s a good piece of legislation and helpful all the way around,” Perazzo said.
Lawmakers also asked about a perennial issue in the city: Overgrown and neglected properties, some of them city-owned.
Kosiur said residents have complained about grass reaching as high as two feet in some places, as well as overgrown traffic islands.
“What can we do about this?” Kosiur asked. “What has been done?”
City Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said poorly-maintained city properties send the wrong message to residents.
“Our city just doesn’t look good right now,” Porterfield said. “If we want residents to do that, we need to do that as well.”
Kosiur also asked about how the city enforces code violations, pointing at a constituent who received a $50 fine from the city for keeping his garbage cans on the side of his house, which is prohibited.
Yet he’s been doing it for 35 years with no problems, Kosiur said.
Commissioner of General Services Paul LaFond said residents aren’t slapped with automatic fines during sweeps.
Residents are given grace periods to correct the violation within a designated time. Failure to do so results in an “administrative fee” that allows the city to remediate the issue and recoup the cost.
LaFond said the Bureau of Services, which houses the city’s Parks, Waste/Schenectady Neighborhood Assistance Program (SNAP), Streets, Water and Sewer departments, has been particularly hard-hit by staffing shortages as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Employee absenteeism, particularly in the Waste Department, has resulted in shifting around personnel to continue providing trash pickup — often at the expense of other functions.
“There were days when we had 49 absenteeisms in the Bureau of Service,” LaFond said.
Retention of temporary and seasonal workers is also a longstanding problem, he said.
McCarthy said the city is trying to do what it can as it navigates the declining revenues that finance day-to-day city operations.
“I’m trying to manage a budget that’s seriously deficit in revenue,” McCarthy said. “Some of you are far more removed in participating in realistic outcomes for managing through this.”
Kosiur countered he’s aware of the city’s fiscal situation.
“This taxpayer’s phone calls and emails continue at an alarming rate,” he said.
Amid a budgetary shortfall of at least $12 million, the City Council authorized City Hall to borrow up to $7 million last month, a measure McCarthy said would avert large-scale layoffs. The city has also instituted a hiring freeze for unfilled positions.
Kosiur noted City Council previously boosted SNAP funding by $140,000 in this year’s fiscal budget.
Perazzo acknowledged the city has been hard hit with the evaporation of sales tax revenue, a situation unfolding in municipalities statewide.
“When revenue is not coming in, those line items look different,” Perazzo said. “Just because we put $140,000 on a line, it doesn’t mean the revenue is there to support it.”
Lawmakers indicated they were open to revising the “administrative fee” structure and will revisit the issue in two weeks.
Correction 9/9 11:17 AM: An earlier version of this st ory incorrectly stated that Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo drafted legislation to crack down on bodegas that attracted crime. Perazzo drafted property nuisance call legislation for landlord-owned properties, which was based on the bodega legislation.