The City Council is considering a temporary moratorium on new taxis in the city while a cab company is pushing for a rate increase.
The council called for a public hearing to implement a 30-day moratorium on issuing medallions for new taxis in the city during a meeting Monday evening.
Councilman Vince Riggi said the moratorium would give the council time to possibly tweak the code to help limit single-car cab companies from operating in the city.
“I think for sure we have to look into the code to change it and make sure cabs are acceptable,” he said. “I think we should have inspections other than safety inspections. It should also be for damage of the cars and cleanliness on the inside of the vehicles because it all reflects on the city.”
Council President Leesa Perazzo said the moratorium on medallions would be for both new and existing cab companies.
“We have to put a moratorium on everything,” she said. “It’s only a 30-day period. I think we need to look at the code as a whole. I think we have to look at possibly limiting the number of medallions that we provide based on the number of citizens per medallion. We need to look at single-car cab companies and consider whether to limit those or not.”
The medallions cost $250 each year and are distributed by the Schenectady Police Department’s traffic services division.
Lt. Tom Harrigan, who oversees taxis in the city, said there is no limit on the number of medallions in Schenectady. He said he believes there should be higher expectations on inspections of cabs.
“In my opinion, some of the companies don’t have the respect that they should,” he said during a council committee meeting last Monday. “Some cabs they brought in to inspect were horrible. I think the code should reflect that better than it does.”
Harrigan said the traffic services division is being “inundated” by applications for new cabs, mostly single-car cab companies, because of the future Rivers Casino and Resort at Mohawk Harbor.
He said he has pending applications for another 16 to 18 cabs on his desk. There are currently 55 medallions in the city, he said.
Gary Derocher of Electric City Taxi in Scotia said the moratorium and possible changes to city code would help to limit the competition.
Derocher said he couldn’t go to Albany, Amsterdam or Saratoga and get a medallion because there are too many taxis in those cities. “We’re starting to see that problem in Schenectady,” he said.
“Now we have the casino coming in so everyone from Albany and Saratoga wants to come here and of course that will hurt my business and other businesses,” Derocher said during the meeting. “There should be a certain number of medallions in Schenectady.”
Electric City has 16 cabs and employs nearly 40 people. Derocher said it costs $6,000 in insurance for each cab and that he expects that number to go up to $8,000 or $10,000.
Derocher is also calling for a rate increase starting June 1. He said the last time there was a rate increase for taxis in the city was 2001.
The current rate for the first 1⁄2 mile, or two minutes of waiting time, is $3.50. Derocher is proposing an increase of $1 to $4.50.
For each subsequent 1⁄8 mile, or 30 seconds of waiting time, the current rate is 25 cents. Derocher is proposing to change that to 25 cents for each subsequent 1⁄10 mile, or 20 seconds of waiting time.
“The cost of living is going up, along with insurance,” he said. “I ask you to give the taxi companies a raise. We haven’t had one and it’s getting tough out there.”
Derocher said the increase would allow him to have better quality cabs for his employees and customers.
“Electric City has now reached a point where upgrading to nicer cars and adding more cars to the fleet to meet the demand of peak usage time periods is not affordable,” he said in a letter to the council.
He noted that Medicaid MAS transportation has standardized rates for 39 counties in the state with a $10 pickup fee and $2.20 per mile including the first half-mile.
Riggi agreed that cab companies deserve a hike in rates after 15 years.
“We have to look at it and see what is acceptable,” he said. “We have some real discussion to go over with this. I know this is not New York City and it’s not Albany. We have to do what is good for Schenectady. But where it is right now, I don’t think that’s enough.”
Perazzo said the timing is right to review how taxis are regulated and to consider an increase in rates with the future casino expected to open in March and attract thousands of visitors.
“We need to look at it and talk about how the taxis are regulated,” she said. “I don’t think we should stop anyone from being a small business. But we want a healthy number of taxis in the city. I think it will be beneficial to our transportation companies and to our visitors.”
The public hearing will be held on Monday, May 23 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
In other news
The council settled a claim for $25,000 by Michael Nicholas, who said the city and Police Department violated his civil rights when he was searched and arrested four years ago for allegedly having 69 bags of heroin between his buttocks.
Schenectady County Judge Karen Drago had ruled that the search was illegal and that the evidence should be thrown out. The ruling resulted in Nicholas' release.
The Schenectady County District Attorney's Office appealed the decision, but last year the appeals court ruled that police needed a search warrant.
Nicholas, of Poughkeepsie, was the passenger in a vehicle stopped by Schenectady police in April 2012. Police stopped the car because they had information that the driver was the subject of an active arrest warrant, according to the ruling.
Police spotted Nicholas with his hand down his pants. Police ordered him to show his hands but he refused. They removed him from the car and placed him face-down in the street and handcuffed him.
As he was being removed from the car, Nicholas’ pants came down, exposing part of his buttocks. An officer spotted a white object and, after waiting 20 to 25 minutes for an ambulance, a detective put on rubber gloves and removed the object, which was a condom filled with 69 packets of heroin.
At the time, Judge Drago ruled the removal was a warrantless manual cavity search not reasonable under the circumstances. Drago also found no medical emergency existed to warrant removal of the drugs.
Also, the council agreed to Councilman John Mootooveren’s proposal to waive building permit fees from June 15 to August 1 for residential owner-occupied and rental properties between one and four units.
The permit waiver would be granted for improvements that cost less than $25,000. The waiver would be limited to roof repair and replacement, siding repair and replacement, porch repair and replacement, window replacement or any exterior repairs and replacements.
Work would be required to be completed within six months. After six months a building permit renewal is required with full permit fees.
The council also approved Councilman John Polimeni's plan to provide a property tax exemption on an increase in assessed value of up to $25,000 for home improvement projects on one- or two-family houses.
The exemption percentage would be 100 percent in the first year and decrease to 87.5 percent the second year, 75 percent the third, 62.5 percent the fouth, 50 percent the fifth, 37.5 percent the sixth, 25 percent the seventh and 12.5 percent the eighth.
Finally, the council approved the sale of 708 Union St. to Jeff Buell of Sequence Development for $10,000 to renovate it with five apartment units. It’s expected to cost a total of about $300,000 to rehabilitate. He said the project would start this summer and be done in six to eight months.
Reach Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro at 395-3114, [email protected] or @HRViccaro on Twitter.