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Gloversville going after code violations

Gloversville going after code violations

City officials say code violators often ignore warnings
Gloversville going after code violations
This house at 232 South Main St. in Gloversville has been cited for code violations.
Photographer: Eric Jenks

Code violations and relatively minor legal infractions are suddenly becoming big headaches for a handful of Gloversville residents as city officials have ratcheted up enforcement efforts on municipal offenses.

The city also recently ended trash collection services for residential buildings with four or more units, passing that cost onto building owners, in an effort to hold city landlords more accountable for how their tenants handle trash.

In Gloversville, it seems, an emphasis has been placed on personal responsibility heading into the new year.
“What we want to do is hold people accountable for their actions, period,”  said Gloversville Mayor Dayton King.

Earlier this month in Gloversville City Court, a trial was held that resulted in a $40,000 judgement against a city property owner for three violations involving his property at 232 South Main St. The city said the owner, T.J. Marlitt, failed to address three longstanding violations at his property: failure to maintain a fence, failure to mow the lawn and failure to remove junk from the premises.

City officials said neighbors had repeatedly complained and that the fine — which could have been as high as $60,000 — was based upon the length of time it took Marlitt to address the violations.

Gloversville Code Enforcement Officer Brandon Myers said the lawn and fence violations were open for 80 days and the junk violation was 100 days old.

Gloversville Fire Chief Thomas Groff, whose department assists with code-enforcement duties, said Marlitt simply refused to take care of his property and ignored his obligations as a property owner. Taking Marlitt to court over the violations, said Groff, was a way to send a message.

“He got the fine that most people should get because most people ignore us and they don’t do what they’re asked to do,” said Groff. “He’s basically didn’t want to follow any of the rules or anything they asked him to do.”

Groff said the city recently levied a different $42,000 fine against another city property owner for code violations, and that while such big fines may be rare, they’re not unheard of in the city. Efforts to reach Marlitt for comment were unsuccessful.

“They’re just asking for people to follow the rules,” said Groff of city leaders. “They want to send a message that we expect people to follow the rules. For so long we’ve gotten ignored and tried to work with people . . . now the city council wants to send a message.”

City officials said the judgment against Marlitt and other recent enforcement actions — particularly those aimed at residential property owners in the city — are part of a wider effort by the mayor and Common Council to clean up Gloversville.

Earlier this year, King and the council passed a resolution ending trash collection services at residential buildings with four or more units. King said the driving force behind the ordinance was to make landlords, who will now have to pay for private collection, care more about how their tenants handle trash. King and other officials said residents were taking their trash out too early, sometimes leaving it strewn about the street, and bringing bulk items to the curb well before bulk-collection days.

The ordinance, which went into effect in late November, will end trash collection at 138 residential buildings at an estimated cost of $1,440 per year for a building with four units, while the city will save approximately $1,000 per month in disposal costs. Those who own such buildings lamented the change and said that Council throws support behind ride-sharing services, in some cases, they would have no choice but to pass the cost on to their tenants, many of whom can ill-afford even a small rent increase.

The municipal crackdown may also extend to the Gloversville Police Department’s recent push to clear their warrant backlog, which according to Chief Marc Porter, now stands at around 400 active warrants.

On a recent weekday, Jessica Tambasco was making food for her fiance when an officer from the Gloversville Police Department knocked on the door of her Park Street apartment. Her fiance answered the door and was told there was a warrant for Tambasco’s arrest.

Her offense? Failure to appear in court on a February ticket she received for an unlicensed dog.
“I burst out in tears,” said Tambasco. “I was shocked and angry.”

Tambasco was taken to the Gloversville Police Station and city court for processing, where her bail was set at $150 cash or $1,000 bond. From there she was taken to a holding cell at the Fulton County Correctional Facility, where her fiance bailed her out.

Tambasco said her court date was set for March, and that she had called the court to tell them she couldn’t make it due to a scheduling conflict.

“I was told the judge would either change the court date or send out a warrant for my arrest,” said Tambasco, noting she’s had at least one court date changed this way in the past. “I completely forgot about it.”

Porter said it’s unclear if Tambasco’s arrest was part of the department’s focus on clearing warrants, but that she had ample opportunity to resolve the situation.

“What I do know is there were at least three documented attempts that we have on record of trying to notify [her],” Porter said.
He added that the department is in the process of auditing its warrants to ensure they match records at city court. When that’s completed, he said, the department is looking at posting certain warrants on social media, a tactic he said other cities have seen success with.

“Some people quite frankly might not be aware there’s a warrant [for their arrest],” he said.

Porter would like residents to know the department is interested in working with people who may have outstanding warrants, and said those residents that think they might are welcome to call the department and determine their legal status with the city.

If someone with a warrant out on them has already seen a judge and just needs to pay a fine, there’s the possibility of avoiding an arrest and resolving the warrant administratively, said Porter. If a judge hasn’t yet become involved in a person’s case who has a warrant out on them, then an arrest could occur.

“It’s not pleasant for anyone but that’s part of the process. If people are interested in helping themselves and interested in taking caring of things, communication is key, especially in things like this,” he sad. “I encourage anyone to call or walk in and we’ll direct them on what needs to be done.”

Porter said the city is looking to vacate some of the 400 active warrants due to their age or through other administrative processes. He acknowledged that the renewed focus on warrants is part of the city’s wider effort to get its house in order.

“It’s a multi-layered approach to different departments within city government working together for the common goal of holding people accountable, and making an effort for the city to be an attractive place for families and businesses,” Porter said.

All of these efforts, from closing outstanding warrants to crackdowns on trash handling and code violations, as well as the city’s plan to hire a “neighborhood quality administrator” (who will essentially function as another code enforcement officer), are part of a concerted push by city leaders to clean up Gloversville, according to King.

“No doubt about it,” said King. “My agenda and the Common Council’s and the city departments’ are really on the same page.”

In interviews with several city officials there was a sense that Gloversville’s leaders are fed up with being ignored.
King said Tambasco had time to deal with her warrant, as did Marlitt with his code violations. He disagreed with the notion that both residents were singled out in any way, but said that the city is taking a tougher approach than in years past to those who ignore their obligations to municipal government.

“I never want to make an example of anybody . . . but I think we do want to make a statement that we’re not going to allow our codes to be ignored,” said King. “That’s happened for years and years and it’s time to get tough.”

King said money for the neighborhood quality administrator, which the city hopes to hire in the first quarter of next year, came from a $150,000 grant the Common Council specifically went after in an effort to clean up the city. The funds will be used to pay an annual $42,000 salary to the administrator for two years, plus cover the cost of an assistant.

King said the council’s pursuit of the grant is more evidence that city leaders are working together and that, despite the anticipated backlash from some property owners and residents, these efforts are being made to improve Gloversville and make it attractive to outsiders.

“We all have the same goal and that feels good,” said King of council members and city department heads. “There’s gonna be pushback on some of this stuff but they’re not afraid of it.”

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