Archive for the ‘code enforcement’ Category

Dear Rick:

It seems to me that you asked Mr. Villa and me to list our priorities, not to debate.

My priorities are as follows:

1. Financial stability/accountability, 2. Economic Development, and 3. Quality of Life.

Much of the success of this administration falls under these broad themes and our work in the coming years will continue along these lines. The following list is not all-inclusive but I hope the readers get a sense of the scope of work I propose.


• Craft a fiscally conservative budget that sustains operations and invests in improved performance. Make sure every dollar spent is necessary and effectively allocated.
• Continue the implementation of the 2014 Corrective Action Plan scripted by the Controller, Corporation Counsel, the former Council and I. Ensure that resources are allocated to the Department of Finance to adequately track, reconcile and report all financial transactions.
• Pursue grants to augment the $27M in funding for capital improvements, equipment and transformative projects that we have received over the past seven years.
• Share services creatively: I offered a list of 34 initiatives to the County that can benefit us by cutting costs, increasing efficiencies and, sometimes, produce much-needed revenue.
• Explore new services that will generate revenue to offset property taxes.

• Expand water distribution to surrounding municipalities.
• Expand the Edson Street Industrial Park.
• Continue the redevelopment of our waterfront and downtown areas. Relocate trains station to urban core: create multi-modal transportation hub with commercial and banquet space.
• Repurpose industrial sites into multi-use commercial spaces, low tech incubators, or residential units.
• Continue to nurture partnerships with economic development entities (MCBDC, AIDA, CEDD, URA, CEG), our regional development partners on the MVREDC (I serve on the executive committee), state agencies and surrounding municipalities (our relationship with Schenectady is flourishing.)
• Capitalize on our location along the Thruway, Rail and River. The year 2017 will mark the 200th Anniversary of the Erie Canalway which will be an ideal time to showcase the new Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook.
• Build the Recreation Center to attract visitors from across the Northeast.
• Revamp our promotional materials and website to publicize opportunities in our community.

• Continue strategic infrastructure improvements (roads, water/sewer/storm distribution systems). Allocate necessary resources to our newly created Landbank.
• Fight blight through code enforcement, demolition, and targeted neighborhood revitalization strategies. Share code enforcement information and best practices with surrounding municipalities via the new software module we are creating with CTG and neighboring cities.
• Grow citizen engagement programs, e.g. neighborhood watch/beautification efforts, community gardens, citywide clean ups, etc.
• Support public safety departments adequately.
• Continue to offer recreational opportunities to youth and families at the Bacon Recreation Center and Creative Connections Arts Center, e.g. summer camps, free swimming lessons and transportation to city pool, after-school tutoring, sports tournaments, 4H club memberships, public arts projects, etc.
• Grow citywide celebratory events such as Spring Fling, National Night Out and Homecoming.
• Provide continued support for the downtown merchants, Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation, Library, Inman Center and the new Farmers’ Market.
• Continue to foster partnerships with the GASD, FMCC, SMH, W1shfu1Th1nk1ng, Centro Civico, churches and other not-for-profits to nurture body, mind and spirit.
• Continue to improve our municipal golf course, parks, playgrounds and monuments.
• Continue to promote historic preservation of our heritage properties.
• Re-engage community in master planning.

Again, there’s much more to this than I have listed here, but carving out a vibrant future for our city demands great thought, budgeting, planning and many, many hands.

One would think that, given the complexity of this job and extreme needs of this city, any candidate would have given considerable thought to priorities before announcing a run for office.

It’s been four and a half months since Mr. Villa announced. He hasn’t come up with any priorities in all of this time? THAT fact speaks for itself.

My motto:
“Be content to act, and leave the talking to others.”
~ Baltasar Gracián, translated from Spanish


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Kenneth C. Andersen (Dad)

The huge number of loved ones that showed up for today’s 8th Annual Out of Darkness Walk for suicide awareness, research and prevention in Saratoga was incredibly moving. Many of us were there in memory of those that we had lost suddenly, leaving pain that only time, faith, and the support of others can soften. I walked in memory of my father,
Kenneth C. Andersen, an intelligent, gentle, funny, generous, and loving man that took his life in 1974. There were many from Amsterdam that attended in support of the Fiorillo family remembering AHS student Vinnie Fiorillo, as you can see demonstrated by the number of purple shirts below. Organizer Marianne Reid’s family shared this day for her brother that passed five years ago.

There were a few thoughts that I came away with from this day:

1. Our loved ones succumbed to illness, many times resulting from depression or substance abuse. Shame and guilt are unecessary as this illness and its tragic end are no more desired or the fault of the family than cancer or diabetes. The taking of a life is the action of a desperately suffering individual.

2. Survivors do not carry a contagious disease. In dealing with those that have suffered this loss, please be compassionate, respectful, warm, and directly acknowledge their grief. It is the oddest sensation to have people casting furtive glances one’s way and speaking in hushed tones, or to avoid conversation completely. It’s 2012; suicide should not be stigmatized any longer. Suicide is not a dirty word.

3. There is so much love that surrounds us. Today’s walk proves it. For more information on suicide prevention, click here.

Thank you to all that paricipated.

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There are factual problems with the Recorder editorial (again) that ran in today’s (6-6-2010) paper.

Last year, we had two housing inspectors reporting to the engineer, not three. We hired a codes supervisor to facilitate scheduling, tracking, reporting and efficiency, shifting supervision of the department away from the engineer. One housing inspector was caught (because of increased scrutiny) falsifying time sheets and stealing pay for time not worked. We now have one inspector and one supervisor. The Council has cut the supervisor in the new budget in order to insert an “entry level” inspector, even though the supervisor also handles building plan review, zoning and permitting. This effectively cuts about $10,000 or .0004% of the budget when we are entering into the busiest complaint season of the year and destroys what we have been struggling to achieve, a strengthened codes department. I have steadfastly requested an additional inspector (or two). The Council has chosen instead to keep two keyboard specialist positions that could be combined into one because of prioritized need.

There is now a suggestion that we give code enforcement to the fire department. This is being investigated but in the end may cost us in time, training and certain negotiation/litigation by two labor units, with the outcome uncertain at best.

I continue to campaign for the confidential aid position in my office. Though code enforcement is a number one priority for this administration (I ran on this too), it is not and cannot be the only endeavor we push forward. I also ran on economic development. Previous administrations either did nothing to promote our city, had confidential aids or an entire Community and Economic Development Department. My aid is instrumental in the creation and production of marketing materials and initiatives (print, video, signage, web and events), oversees our neighborhood association and volunteer activities, and helps shoulder the enormous amount of work that is generated by my office every day. He has exceeded every goal that has been set for him, all for $16,000 a year or .0006% of the budget.

There is a $4.9 BILLION dollar industry sprouting up just 35 minutes from Amsterdam and my office will not have the personnel to engage this global giant.

Slicing my aid and the codes supervisor doesn’t hurt me, it hurts the city.

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Alderman Wills cites Detroit as an example of what the City of Amsterdam is up against and how we may acquire federal funding to fight blight. We should all take offense in being compared to the failed and ugly industrial giant, but let me clarify a bit further on the difference between Detroit and the City of Amsterdam.

In Detroit, a block-by-block Mortgage Bankers Association National Delinquency Survey (MBA-NDS) was necessary to plan for and apply for funding. A total of 33,529 vacant homes were identified, which is a third of all Detroit lots. Between 10,000 and 12,000 vacant houses were considered dangerous and ripe for demolition. Detroit received this highly competitive, one-time Neighborhood Stabilization Program Grant (NSP) because of the gross need of its community.

The NSP statute directs that the funds be allocated to “States and units of general local government with the greatest need, as such need is determined in the discretion of the Secretary based on
(A) the number and percentage of home foreclosures in each State or unit of general local government;
(B) the number and percentage of homes financed by a subprime mortgage related loan in each State or unit of general local government; and
(C) the number and percentage of homes in default or delinquency in each State or unit of general local government.”

The statute also provides direction to grantees that they should give priority emphasis in targeting the funds that they receive to “those metropolitan areas, metropolitan cities, urban areas, rural areas, low- and moderate-income areas, and other areas with the greatest need, including those–
(A) with the greatest percentage of home foreclosures;
(B) with the highest percentage of homes financed by a subprime mortgage related loan; and
(C) identified by the State or unit of general local government as likely to face a significant rise in the rate of home foreclosures.”

In NYS, the larger urban areas garner much of the federal funding (i.e., Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and Schenectady; much bigger cities with much bigger problems. Albany alone has 900 vacant buildings.) Grant funding is difficult for communities with under 50,000 residents to acquire, as we are not eligible for the same grants and must compete amongst ourselves for the small percentage of the funding pie leftover from the larger cities. The larger cities may also form land banks and have entire departments dedicated to managing and acquiring funding for vacant structures and neighborhood revitalization.

I’m not saying grants are completely out of the picture, it’s just that they are not as readily available as you think. Our demolition efforts so far have been to prioritize our approach, concentrating on the most dilapidated structures that are health and/or safety risks and to take down as many in one given area as possible, so as to save on mobilization fees and time. We’ve taken down twentyone houses and three porches since we started with the County last year. We’ve got thirty more structures identified for a round of demo this fall. We should bond for the coming year’s demolition expenses now.

This summer, I will be reconstituting the Comprehensive Plan Committee to review our goals. This should help us target our efforts for funding requests and make us more attractive to granting entities.

That said, there is still much we must pursue with what we have.

As the council, we should be sure that we are levying meaningful fines against problem properties. This should be considered in our zoning rewrite. We may also consider passing the cost of higher police, fire and code services to vacant building owners by levying heavier fees. We should offer empty lots to adjoining owner-occupants at minimal cost. Investors at our foreclosure sale should be banned from bidding unless they have building permits to renovate earlier acquisitions and can show adequate financing along with a favorable track record in these endeavors. We should try to institute measures that limit property insurance payouts until damaged parcels are code compliant (never forget 60 Bunn Street.) We’ve instituted the local representative registry for out-of-town landlords; how about instituting a vacant building registry?

We MUST expand tax incentives for preservation and rehabilitation of older homes. The Council has spoken of strengthening Code Enforcement. This cannot be done by cutting staff. This must be addressed in this year’s final budget.

I again point out that a properly managed Community & Economic Development Department could be charged with oversight of blight management, as well as dedicated planning, grant writing, property disposition, downtown development, neighborhood initiatives and marketing. This department should coordinate the efforts of AIDA, URA, AHA, the Common Council, community organizations and the County. I understand our financial limitations, but this investment will pay back in the revitalization of our city.

Lastly, take a ride down Division Street from Clinton to Guy. We are beginning to win the battle there thanks to the CDBG grant and work with Rivercrest. We’ve improved about six facades and several key demolitions have changed the face of the neighborhood. It’s a small bite, but that’s how you eat an elephant. One bite at a time.

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“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

– G. K. Chesterton

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As you are perhaps aware, we had received great interest from planning firms around the region and across the state to help facilitate the redrafting of our zoning ordinances. This has been in discussion for a year or more, as is evidenced by the press release issued after our joint meeting of the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals last summer.

“A joint meeting between the City of Amsterdam’s Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals was held on Thursday, August 28th and presided over by Mayor Ann Thane. The meeting was called to bring both bodies together to discuss the updating of the City’s zoning maps and legislation and the need to incorporate suggested changes articulated in Amsterdam’s 2003 Comprehensive Plan. “It has become increasingly evident that this work must be done now, given several recent projects that have been brought to the attention of these boards”, said Thane, referring to a proposed biodiesel plant, as well as storage facilities, in areas that are predominantly residential in the Fourth Ward.

Suggestions for change were numerous. The Mayor’s office will ensure that each board member is provided a binder containing contact information of board members & aldermen, relevant Municipal Law & local ordinances, zoning maps, training opportunities, meeting minutes, pertinent resolutions, sample applications, and most importantly, the comprehensive plan. Both boards recognized the need for clarification and simplification of the permitting process. It was agreed that classifications should be added to the schedule of usage, the section of code that explains what structures are appropriate for any given area. Guidelines must be established for the historic overlay districts and the downtown district expanded. The permitting fee structure must be also revisited to reflect a sliding scale for applications and penalties strengthened for work that has occurred without a permit. Planning Commissioner Pam Ritter recognized that “a push for compliance and enforcement is especially important.” It was noted by the group that an effort must be made to educate the public as to the permitting process and that information must be streamlined and easily available to interested parties.”

I am asking that you please contact the aldermen to strongly urge them to proceed with the award of the zoning rehab to HB Solutions. This group had been chosen after a much publicized RFP process – documented in area newspapers and posted to on-line professional associations, and sent to two residents that had expressed interest in this project. The seven responses were reviewed by my office, the City Engineer, URA, and representatives from each of the Planning and Zoning boards. A recommendation was put forward to the Council, was discussed and approved in committee, and allocated for in this year’s budget. A resolution was moved at a Council meeting when it was suddenly suggested that the County facilitate this process.

The County was then contacted and indicated that at the time of the RFP, they could not provide us the service we had requested given the time restraints. There is now talk that they may be able to start our project in a year, perhaps for less money, though the particulars have not been put into writing.

Let me be very clear here: I have great respect for the County.

We are looking at a process that once started may take as long as nine months to complete; I am distressed to think we are now pushing this out almost another two years. Additionally, I would suggest our reputation is once again at risk: we set a dead line, have people expend time and expense to jump through hoops, and then change the game plan.

I had anticipated the County Planning Department would be intimately involved as a partner in this process, but not as the lead in this holistic project. I would suggest that HB Solutions offers a highly qualified, experienced team of professional project managers, economic development planners, architects, and attorneys. Their expertise comes from years of work with municipalities like ours across the state. I feel we are best served in accessing the immediate and exceptional talents, resources and capabilities of the HB team.

My frustration is that we have been trying to move this process forward for so long. At last year’s joint meeting, it was widely recognized that these revisions were needed as soon as possible to address problems mentioned in the excerpt above and in regard to possible revitalization of areas in the City through economic development. My concerns now focus on redevelopment along the River, in our downtown, in residential neighborhoods and at the Esquire site. We have several exciting projects in the works that make this project so necessary.

A resolution has been put forward to move this project forward at Tuesday night’s Council meeting. I hope you will support my efforts to bring positive change to this community. We must not keep putting off what should have been done years ago. The community deserves better.

The contact for the aldermen is as follows:

First Ward:
Joseph Isabel 843-5185
P.O. Box 581, 26 Yale Street, Amsterdam, NY 12010

Second Ward:
Daniel V. Roth 542-0723
7 Creekway, Amsterdam, NY 12010

Third Ward:
Kim Brumley 843-4311
75 Evelyn Avenue, Amsterdam, NY 12010

Fourth Ward:
William Wills 843-4660
17 Catherine St., Amsterdam, NY 12010

Fifth Ward:
Richard Leggiero 843-0808
101 Florida Ave., Amsterdam, NY 12010

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I’m happy to report that the City of Amsterdam, NY’s new website is up and running. Please check us out at: www.amsterdamny.gov

We will continue to make improvements over the next few months, and appreciate your suggestions and comments. There is a contact page on the site.

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Code Enforcement
Mission, Workload, Performance Standards and Adequate Staffing

Mission: Promote, protect, and improve the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens through effective code enforcement.

Currently, the department employees feel overtaxed, under-appreciated and understaffed. The community is frustrated by the growth of deteriorating structures and perennial problems associated with blight. The Common Council must balance budget constrictions and the expectations of its constituents.

In order to establish effective code enforcement in our City, we must enable better oversight of the department, set targeted, statistical benchmarks, and establish performance standards for staff. The Council must ensure that the zoning ordinances and maps are redrafted to so that they clearly articulate the desires of the community expressed in the Comprehensive Plan and spur revitalization of the municipality.

Action steps:
– weekly staff meetings
– establish a formal process of prioritizing cases
– better public relations/customer service enhancement
– better public access to case files
– assess current forms/documents
– maintain files/process paperwork in a timely, accurate fashion
– better communication between departments: APD, AFD, Engineering, Corporation Counsel
– better communication with Common Council
– set measurable performance benchmarks
(geographic coverage, target response times, data collection, reporting)

Reports should include:
– all existing information for each case
– priority status level
– assigned case officer
– date of each case entry
– all civil fines/administrative costs assessed by date of action
– liens attached
– final disposition of complaint at closure

Management must track:
– active (open) case count
– distribution of cases by priority for each officer (age of each case, type of violation, etc.)
– average time and minimum/maximum times from complaint to first investigation
– average time and minimum/maximum times for reporting all steps until final disposition

New computerized system will allow:
– centralized case management
– data auditing
– GIS in real time enforcement activities
– prioritization/scheduling
– interactive exchanges between departments

My suggestions:
Invest in resources to address unmet expectations:
– restructure department (implement supervisory position and part-time exterior code technician)
– develop organizational chart and new job descriptions, new schedule
– conduct costs/benefit analysis
– contract out work to “catch up” inspections, administration, planning review and enforcement services. Put out RFP for temporary, outside assistance.
– supply cell phones to each code enforcement officer
– implement GPS tracking system
– possibly increase application fees for permitting/building/planning services to support higher service standards

We will call a Codes Committee meeting in the near future to invite solutions and commentary from the Whole of the Common Council.

Staffing issues (in the Codes Department and others) and the zoning ordinance/maps redraft will be addressed while we are tackling the 09/10 budget.

We must work together to meet the needs of our community.

P.S. I have received seven (7) proposals for the zoning ordinance/maps redraft.

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