City Council discussion focuses on ways to handle neighborhood disturbances, violations
City Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian says the City needs to get tough with landlords and homeowners when disturbances that put employees in jeopardy arise, but just how to proceed can be complicated.
That was the gist of a discussion among council members, a city attorney and the police chief at Monday night’s Conference Meeting at City Hall.
“I’m tired of policeman getting hurt and firemen being threatened,” Christian said, referring to several incidences in recent months where police have had to be called.
She also called for harsher local ordinances that deal with grass mowing, trash, home maintenance and vehicle storage – even outlining a plan that would start with a warning, escalate to a $500 fine and court appearance, and ultimately putting the matter into a judge’s hands.
“We need to hurt them in their pocket; we just don’t do enough,” she said. “If we start hurting them in their pocket, we’ll get somewhere.”
It isn’t as simple as that, however, said Council President Eugene Jankowski.
“I think we tried this before (holding the landlord responsible),” Jankowski said. “But evicting is a 30- to 60-day process, and then the renter goes ballistic and trashes the place. We have to arrest the resident.”
Attorney David Fitch, filling in for George Van Nest, said he felt the discussion “was conflating some different things” since code violations are handled differently than criminal violations.
“With code enforcement violation, as the city attorney we would prosecute, but can’t hold the landlord responsible,” he said. “The goal … is to get compliance – paint their houses, cut the lawns, take care of the trash.”
Fitch said if residents don’t respond, “judges in City Court have no problem issuing a hefty fine, up to $250 per day.”
Chief Shawn Heubusch mentioned a program where landlords can check into the backgrounds of potential tenants and also get a description of what took place at the property.
“At our last community meeting, we talked about landlord licensing,” he said. “People in dangerous situations won’t call police if they think they will get fined.”
Heubusch said he “understands where you’re coming from,” in response to Christian, “as our guys live it every single day.”
Jankowski noted the many delays in processing violations, but Christian said it goes beyond that.
“If there are drugs (involved), we can take possession of property. If the landlord is aware of possession of drugs or dealing, they can bring the landlord to court,” she said.
“We need something that has an effect on our community. I would hate to go through another summer like we had this year.”
Jankowski said that landlords can evict tenants when a crime is committed in their house, while Heubusch said cooperation from neighbors is a key component in cleaning up illegal activity.
Council referred several draft resolutions to its Business Meeting on Dec. 10, including:
-- Lead agency status in the State Environmental Quality Review determination and subsequent zoning change ordinance for parcels comprising the St. Anthony’s Church campus on Liberty Street and Central Avenue.
The zoning designation, stemming from a request from City Church (owners of the property), will be changed from R-3 Residential to C-3 Commercial to allow for business activities, including a proposal to move the Batavia Youth Bureau there.
“These are the final steps of the zoning change,” said Matt Worth, director of public works, who oversaw the issue while serving as interim city manager.
-- A local law to amend the City’s municipal code to make Thorpe Street a one-way street for southbound traffic only between Watson and Maple streets.
During a brief public hearing last night, Watson Street resident Ken Wolter said he hoped that the change works and asked Council to consider making Watson Street off of Evans Street one-way as well.
-- The extension of one-year – through Dec. 31, 2019 – three agreements with Genesee County concerning water supply, operation and maintenance, and facilities lease while leaders work on a longer-term contract in conjunction with a long-term sales tax agreement.
Worth said the extensions contain “minimal changes,” most notably the county charging the city an additional 60 cents per 1,000 gallons – up from the current 60 cents per 1,000-gallon surcharge – to help fund capital projects to increase the water supply.
Also, as far as the lease of the city’s water plant to the county is concerned, the new agreement would transfer it to the county once the plant is no longer being used.
“By doing this, it would not be a liability to the city in the future,” Worth said.
He also said he plans to talk to county officials about including a lead services clause in the water supply agreement.
-- Acceptance of a New York State Education Department grant for $10,000 and a State Aid Recreation Program grant for $1,000 to assist with the start-up of the Teen City project, a joint venture of the United Way of Genesee County, Genesee County YMCA, City of Batavia and City Church.
-- The transfer of $585,000 in unallocated funds to several restricted funds per recommendation of the City Audit Committee.
“Funding reserves now for future liabilities, equipment, infrastructure and facility improvements has been, and will continue to be, critical in avoiding larger tax burdens in future years,” Lisa Neary, deputy director of Finance, wrote in a memo dated Nov. 21.
The resolution calls for reserve funds to be increased as follows: $150,000 to DPW; $25,000 to Sidewalk; $75,000 to Administrative Equipment; $5,000 to Police Equipment; $40,000 to Fire Equipment; $10,000 to Dwyer Stadium; $50,000 to Facility; $80,000 to Compensated Absence; $50,000 to Workers Compensation; $75,000 to Retirement; and $25,000 to Parking Lot.
-- A new three-year lease (through April 1, 2022) with the New York-Penn League for the use of Dwyer Stadium for the league-owned Batavia Muckdogs.
The proposed lease is consistent with the most recent lease and calls for a $25,000 capital investment by the City into the facility annually, said Worth, who noted that league officials have yet to respond to the City’s draft of the lease.
Worth said the league paid for field and clubhouse improvements last season and continues to pay all utilities. He said that $80,000 is in the current Dwyer Stadium reserve fund.