SCHENECTADY — The mayor’s proposed budget takes the proverbial wrecking ball to the city’s code enforcement efforts.
Proposed allocations for code enforcement have been slashed 27 percent over this year’s spending levels.
If enacted, the cuts would result in an extra 20 percent workload per officer, said Chief Building Inspector Chris Lunn.
Officers also would be forced to prioritize life-safety issues before responding to other service calls like building inspections and checking in on blighted structures.
“It’s going to take longer,” Lunn told lawmakers on Thursday. “Wait times are obviously going to go up.”
While all departments have been asked to pare down costs, perhaps no other will be more affected under Mayor Gary McCarthy’s proposed spending plan, drafted as the city faces a $10.1 million shortfall.
McCarthy’s proposal would lay off two code enforcement officers, a clerk and an assistant building inspector while leaving unfilled three additional vacancies that have been open since last November.
That would leave the office with just eight code enforcement officers, three administrative staff and an electrical inspector.
The potential depletion comes after broad reforms following the fatal 2015 Jay St. Fire that killed four.
Lunn was brought in afterward to reform the code enforcement office, which is now under the umbrella of the Public Safety Bureau, and to implement software and other technological upgrades to better track, monitor and respond to violations.
“We’ve been ramping up code enforcement over the past few years and have had some great success,” Lunn said. “With that, we’ve come into a time that has some unknowns.”
Lawmakers asked Lunn about the effects of the cutbacks during Thursday’s budget workshop, the second of three.
The two code enforcement inspectors who would be laid off are those who did not pass the Civil Service exam, Lunn said.
In all, allocations would drop from $959,284 this year to $719,988 in 2021.
Lawmakers also questioned city Engineer Chris Wallin about the impact of proposed reductions to his department, including the elimination of a vacant assistant to the engineer position.
Wallin said after the meeting it’s difficult to predict the exact impact because the Engineering Department has been understaffed for the entire eight years he’s been in the position.
“It would help reduce our reliance on consultants, and would help me do more productive programs that I would like to do, but don’t have the staff to do,” Wallin said.
Any further cutbacks would significantly affect the delivery of services, which includes everything from filling potholes, paving streets, issuing permits and coordinating street closures, he said.
“If the department of engineering doesn’t do these core responsibilities, then the gears stop,” Wallin told lawmakers.
McCarthy has been vocal in calling for federal aid, and said projected cutbacks in his $87.5 million spending plan could be averted with a relief package.
“It is not ideal, but it’s what I can manage in the short term,” McCarthy said after the meeting on Thursday.
Ahead of the fatal Jay Street Fire, the city Fire Department pointed out life-threatening violations at 104 Jay St., including the lack of fire doors in stairwells and inoperable smoke alarms, among other concerns.
But the Codes Department, which has since been restructured, did not act on the complaints because the city lacked a system to log, track and ensure the issues had been addressed, according to a Schenectady County grand jury report.
A separate report by the state Comptroller’s Office also found flaws in how long it took the city to inspect buildings.
The third and final city budget workshop is scheduled for Tuesday.