Cities combat code violations

Code enforcement violations in the Glove Cities – ranging from blighted vacant buildings to people not cutting their lawns – can be frustrating for the city’s governments and residents.

This time of year, code enforcers within city governments are on patrol, especially trying to clean up unsightly properties and cluttered neighborhoods as a continuous quality-of-life issue.

Gloversville Mayor Dayton King said he and the Common Council are trying to improve the situation. Code enforcement issues that can come to light include hazardous structures, unoccupied housing, site conditions and land use discrepancies.

“A lot of it is a lack of compliance,” the mayor says.

Gloversville has applied for a $1 million state Department of State grant with four other Capital Region cities in an effort to improve code enforcement. Gloversville will spend $20,000 in local funding over two years. Prior to supporting the application, King said the code enforcement technical setup in the city is somewhat antiquated.

For instance, Gloversville City Attorney Anthony Casale must physically go from City Hall to the Fire Department to review every record relating to potential violations, he said.

In Gloversville, the fire department is responsible for property code enforcement, the building inspector makes inspections, and the Department of Public Works may end up cleaning up junk situations.

The grant, of which Gloversville would obtain $200,000, would mainly be used to buy computer software and other equipment to improve code enforcement communications among city departments and the other cities in the program. In addition to Gloversville, other cities involved are Schenectady, Amsterdam, Troy and Saratoga Springs.

King noted some building owners just “walk away” from their buildings when they can’t pay taxes. He noted that was the case in 2011 when the former First Baptist Church on South Main Street was demolished, leaving a new vacant lot in the heart of downtown.

“The city had to pick up the tab,” the mayor said.

The church, built in 1890, had been abandoned and unused for many years. The city secured $434,000 in state grant funding to cover most of the demolition costs.

King said he’s glad his city now has a good working relationship with the Fulton County Demolition Team, which has been able to raze dilapidated buildings at a cheaper cost than if done by independent contractors.

“It’s unfortunate,” King said. “The local economy has declined the last 40 or 50 years.”

King said the Gloversville Fire Department does a “good job” with code enforcement in the city. But he said the courts and City Attorney Anthony Casale can only do so much with the statutes.

“I think it lacks some teeth,” King said.

The mayor said when some city residents get fines, they “laugh and don’t pay.”

“Just as in every municipality, there are problem cases,” Casale says. “But the problem cases are in the great minority.”

Casale said certain cases are “very frustrating,” including out-of-town limited liability companies, or LLCs, which “have no real desire to be compliant with codes.”

But the city is trying new ways to keep up.

A business July 8 was awarded the 2014 lawn maintenance contract at a Common Council meeting.

According to the resolution, General Services/M.R. Parillo D.B.A., of Hagaman, was determined to be the lowest qualified bidder at $19,035.

Kevin Jones, Director of Public Works, said he hopes the business will start within the next couple of days. The contract goes to the end of mowing season in the fall, he said. The independent contractor will perform property maintenance on county-owned properties and lawn-mowing abatements on properties cited for violations.

Johnstown Fire Chief Bruce Heberer, his city’s code enforcement officer since 1990, said code enforcement is an ongoing battle no matter what year. But he said Johnstown has made “great progress” since taking over code enforcement that year from a building inspector officer.

“I think we’re winning the battle,” Heberer said.

The fire chief said he personally hates the word “blight,” although he realizes that parts of his city have chronic problems with people breaking the codes.

“Certain people need to be reminded,” he said.

Heberer said the Johnstown Fire Department’s Codes Division continues to stay on top of the situation and has always done public inspections and ward sweeps.

But he said one thing that “irritates” him is people putting their junk household items such as couches out on the lawn and sticking a “free” sign on them. Heberer said some of those items can sit outside for days on end. Another “pet peeve” of his is homeowners who don’t keep their lawns mowed, especially after the home becomes vacant.

“We do have a problem with it,” Heberer said.

He said the city has had a problem with junk vehicles, but not so much in recent years. If vehicles are deemed junk vehicles, he said residents have 10 days to have them towed off their property or face fines.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.