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Schenectady council told about improvements to Buildings Department

Schenectady council told about improvements to Buildings Department

Officials say many changes have been made or underway
Schenectady council told about improvements to Buildings Department
Schenectady City Hall in 2016.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

SCHENECTADY — There are no outstanding code violation reports and all multiple-dwelling units in the city have been inspected, according to city officials.

An update on code enforcement was given during the City Council’s Administrative Efficiency Committee meeting on Monday. Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens, Buildings Department Chief Jack Falvo and Chief Building Inspector Chris Lunn told council members what has already been done to improve the Buildings Department and what improvements are forthcoming.

“We’ve made a lot of progress to date," Eidens said.

The update, written out in a four-page report, comes after critical reports from the state Comptroller’s Office and a grand jury report, both which noted deficiencies in the city’s code enforcement program.

The state comptroller’s audit specifically criticized the city on failing to inspect 684 of the 1,440 multiple-dwelling units in the city during the state-required three-year window. 

The grand jury report came down on the city’s Bureau of Code Enforcement for failing to act on 14 code violation reports filed by city firefighters. This came after a fire killed four residents at 104 Jay St.  in March 2015.

Lunn said none of the code violation reports go ignored or wait to be acted upon anymore. 

He said those now are treated with an emergency response, which means Lunn has been responding to them quickly.

“Emergency response is what code officers should be doing,” Lunn told council members. “That’s what I’m committed to; community service and a department that is productive.”

The Building Department has also entered into a contract with a company called Compliance Engine. It’s a web-based program called Municity, which will give an immediate notification to the Buildings Department if an alarm system is “canceled or terminated.”

There has also been an emphasis on training, according to Falvo.

There will be weekly in-service training held, some of which will be run by newly hired Assistant Building Inspector Lou Paniccia. According the report, this will lead to uniform code enforcement throughout the city.

The report also notes some actions that are underway. This includes hiring two new code enforcement officers, rolling out the use of Municity and requesting authorization from the City Council to make all housing inspectors train to become code enforcement officers.

“We want them all cross-trained,” Lunn said.

There are other initiatives that are in the planning stages.

Falvo is asking Buildings Department employees not to do inspections of properties owned by friends, family or even just someone they know. Falvo said it will be up to the employee to bring any conflicts of interest to their supervisor.

“The [code enforcement officer] is supposed to recognize there is a conflict of interest,” Falvo said.

Independent Councilman Vince Riggi said he did think that rule would be a difficult one to enforce because, “It’s Schenectady, people know a lot of people.”

On the City Council’s end, it will soon be voting on new ordinances to bring it up to the state’s code enforcement requirements.

This includes an ordinance that requires any multiple-dwelling unit to be inspected once every three years, as opposed to the city’s current ordinance that says it must be done whenever there’s a change of tenants.

“That's where there was a breakdown,” Lunn said.

The Buildings Department is also requesting an ordinance that requires its staff to inspect every building with an alarm system and/or a sprinkler system each year, along with having to file a proof of inspection and compliance.

After the presentation was over, Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo asked when the council could get moving on voting on those ordinances.

“I’d like to discuss their suggestions sooner rather than later,” Perazzo said.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said he would have the draft ordinances prepared for the next round of committee meetings on May 7.

Also during the meeting, the council’s City Development and Planning Committee approved a resolution for an option agreement that would allow the Miracle on Craig Street group to purchase the shuttered Carver Community Center building, along with 5 adjacent parcels, for $1,000. This will help them in getting more funding for their project, according to the resolution.

City Deputy Corporation Counsel Rachel Ward said the agreement would last for six months. She said the city didn’t want to hand over ownership of the building just yet because they want the group to get more of the funding it’s seeking.

“They have to at least apply and show where the money is going to come from in six months,” Ward said. “Then we will see where we are at.”

If they don’t have the funding in that amount of time, the city could revoke the offer. But City Council President Ed Kosiur indicated they would most likely extend it.

Rosa Rivera, board chairwoman of the Miracle on Craig Street, previously said the total cost of the project is $1.5 million. They learned this following a feasibility study performed by TAP, the Troy Architecture Practice.

The group is currently raising money through a YouCaring page, where it has already raised $37,000 of its $200,000 goal, and is seeking grant funding through several organizations.

It is recommended to receive $150,000 from the city through the federal Community Development Block Grant program.

People can donate by visiting www.youcaring.com/schenectadycares

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