Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane is calling on the Common Council to take some action after receiving more than 80 complaints about unkept properties and roadside vegetation that’s gotten out of control.
Motorists have to peek over vegetation to try to pass through the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Church Street, and complaints over properties full of garbage and weeds the size of corn stalks have doubled compared with June 2010.
“When properties go into disarray it brings the whole neighborhood down,” Thane said Wednesday.
The city reduced its seasonal help for property maintenance from four to two employees while developing the 2011-12 budget, and Thane is proposing to put two people back because of the workload.
But adding more employees to the already-tight budget could be a controversial proposal unless revenues can be raised to accommodate them.
Thane is proposing to increase the $250 “mobilization” fee charged to absentee landlords and others who don’t maintain their properties in hopes that revenue could make up the difference.
Thane said she believes it would cost between $17,000 and $20,000 to hire two people for the season.
With only two people available, Thane said there’s no way the city can maintain the parcels and intersections, some of which are actually the responsibility of the state alongside state roadways.
“There’s no way for us to address the problem, and constituents are paying taxes because they expect services to be delivered. It’s an important investment,” Thane said.
The stretch of grass alongside state Route 30 in the city, as well as the triangle of land at the city’s eastern entrance on state Route 5, are among problem areas that are the responsibility of the state, but city workers wind up cutting the weeds in those spots at city expense.
But Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said it’s impractical to try to charge the state for the work.
He said it’s his understanding these areas are on a Department of Transportation maintenance schedule. But they’re targeted for work about four times a year, not once a week as people would like.
Second Ward Alderwoman Julie Pierce said she’d support adding two seasonal employees, but only if an increase in the maintenance charge can be shown to make up the cost.
In the case of private properties, owners are sometimes nowhere to be found or out of town altogether, and the charge for maintenance has to be tacked onto the tax bill, making it hard to count on the money, Pierce said.
“The only downfall is it’s sometimes hard to collect on that,” she said.
Despite the tough budget situation both at the state and local level, Pierce said residents who take care of their properties deserve to have a decent view next door.
“I think for the people living next to the vegetation it’s a big deal. If we’re going to attract people to the city, if we’re going to keep people in the city, I think that has to be taken care of.”
Getting the maintenance charges to pay for employees might be a difficult prospect, according to figures provided by City Controller Heather Reynicke.
Reynicke estimates only one percent of the money the city charges to property owners is even paid. The rest is relevied onto the tax bill.
For the current budget, the city has budgeted $10,000 from code enforcement fees, but that revenue is already spoken for with expenses.
Reynicke said $30,895 in these charges have been relevied onto the tax bill.
The Common Council is expected to review a resolution regarding more employees next week.