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Cities team up to fight blight

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Cities team up to fight blight

The mayors of Amsterdam, Gloversville, Schenectady and Troy are working to establish a system to sha
Cities team up to fight blight
Schenectady City Hall is shown at sunset in this 2014 file photo.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

The mayors of Amsterdam, Gloversville, Schenectady and Troy are working to establish a system to share code enforcement data in an effort to combat blight.

The cities are partnering with the University at Albany’s Center for Technology in Government to leverage a $558,000 state Department of State grant to set code enforcement standards and share information.

“Each community keeps records differently,” Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said during a news conference at UAlbany’s Center for Technology in Government on Thursday. “This system will create a standard and allow for collaboration.”

He said it would take about two years for the new system to be up and running. It will work, in part, to create a uniform definition for abandoned homes and keep track of problem landlords in the four cities.

Urban blight is a serious concern, said UAlbany President Robert Jones, who also serves as the co-chair of the Capital Region Regional Economic Development Council. He said a shared system would use resources more efficiently to tackle the problem.

“We have a responsibility to utilize our resources and to help with problems the cities cannot solve on their own,” he said. “Our cities cannot stand alone as islands. We need to share resources. UAlbany and CTG can help with that, which would in turn help to enhance business, create jobs and create a better quality of life for city residents.”

State Secretary of State Cesar Perales said the initiative to create a system to share code enforcement data among cities began when McCarthy reached out and began pushing the idea.

“This all started with Gary McCarthy calling and then bringing [Amsterdam Mayor] Ann Thane, and then they kept coming back,” he joked. “Then it went from a duo to a quartet. I can’t fight off four mayors.”

Thane said blight is the No. 1 issue in communities like Amsterdam. She said a single abandoned property is estimated to cost the city about $60,000 over a period of five years.

Troy Mayor Lou Rosamilia said bringing the four cities together to identify problems and ways to fix them would be more efficient and save the cities money.

“Information can be shared when landlords go from community to community,” he said. “We can identify problem landlords.”

Schenectady Building Inspector Eric Shilling said a shared code enforcement system would allow cities to compare records, as police departments do when trying to find a suspect.

“Right now we have no shared databases,” he said. “This will help us to determine who is creating poor conditions in cities. That information will be fed into a shared system.”

McCarthy said when he took office four years ago the city’s Building Department was still doing everything manually. Although the department has made some strides into the digital age, he said more should be done electronically.

The shared system would even allow for more transparency, he said. He pointed to the fatal Jay Street fire two months ago as an example.

The Daily Gazette was denied code enforcement documents related to the inspections of 100-102 and 104 Jay St. following a massive fire that killed four people, injured seven and displaced about 60.

“This will allow us to reduce expenses and allow for better access of information,” McCarthy said. “More data will be online and standards will be set that can be used across communities.”

Today the city of Schenectady is kicking off its annual Neighborhood Code Compliance Review. The code sweep, starting in the Northside, will include door-to-door inspections.

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