Residents from the first and third wards of Amsterdam filled the council chambers Monday night to air concerns, ask questions and offer suggestions before 1st Ward Alderman Ed Russo, 3rd Ward Alderman Ron Barone, as well as county legislators John Duchessi and Joe Isabel. Mayor Ann Thane, 4th Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler and 5th Ward Alderman Rich Leggerio were also in attendance.
Many of the complaints brought up by residents had to do with deteriorating houses near to their own homes. Several residents asked why certain situations were not being more aggressively pursed by the codes department. At least two residents pointed out properties that had significant back taxes, but were not yet foreclosed on.
“It takes time..it’s a rigorous thing you have to go through to foreclose on a house. Some of these houses have been on the foreclosure list for about five years. So now…your [back] taxes are more than the [house is worth]. So it’s kinda hard to make a deal with [the owner], when you let it go that long,” said Barone.
Another resident brought up the amount of sand still left on the roads and asked if residents should sweep it up themselves or wait for the city to clean it up.
Barone answered that the amount of sand on the roads was due to the severity of the winter snowstorms. He suggested residents leave the sand for the street sweepers to pick up.
Later, Public Works Foreman Anthony Leggerio said toward the end of winter, the city could not obtain any more salt, and so more sand was used instead. He suggested that in the future, the city consider applying a salt and water solution (ie “brining”) to the streets before winter storms in order to conserve salt, similar to what he observed the state doing in years past. He also said that weather permitting, crews would be out by Wednesday to begin fixing the multitude of potholes on city streets.
Another resident asked about the procedure to change a section of the city code that forbid the raising of birds such as chickens, turkeys, or geese. He said he would like to be able to raise chickens on his property. Russo said that he should bring the idea up at the next common council meeting.
Duchessi suggested that the council look at banning basketball games played in city streets. When the question was asked if there was already an ordinance against that, Hatzenbuhler replied that she had tried to get one passed in a previous year (before her election) but that the council wouldn’t pass it.
“But it’s never been put before this council,” added Barone.
Later, Isabel (a former member of the common council) said, “Diane seems to blame the old council for everything, but we looked into that…there was a tremendous amount of support…but you’re going to see both sides…parents were saying they wanted something for the kids to do.”
TJ Czeski, one of the co-founders of the W1SHFU1:TH1NK1NG (Wishful Thinking) Foundation, spoke in favor of Veteran’s Field as a potential site for a new recreation center to be built.
“Can we count on you to get back to us with the answers to our problems?” asked one resident.
“Yeah,” replied Barone, “if not I’ll give you my resignation.”
At the end of the meeting, Thane spoke to address some of the issues that were brought up. She pointed to the council’s support for the land bank as one promising solution to the problems of blight. Russo also voiced his support for the program.
Thane cited the future use of an integrated software system that would allow area cities including Amsterdam to coordinate the tracking of landlords as one way to address the growing blight problem.
In response to a question from Anthony Leggerio about a large number of properties bought at auction by a single organization which have now been abandoned, Thane said that the properties had been turned over to a “dummy corporation” with a constantly changing home address.
Thane said, “That’s particularly one of the situations that we want to be able to address with this code enforcement [software] module because I am positive that those people are doing that in California, I know they’re doing it in Philadelphia… so we want to be able to go to the attorney general’s office and say ‘look you can see these people are going all over the place and doing this.’ It’s very frustrating.”
Barone closed the meeting by saying, “I’d like to thank everyone for coming this evening. If you have a problem..I don’t care where you live, I’d be glad to listen to you.” He went on to reiterate each of the council member’s willingness to talk with constituents about issues facing the city. He added that he hoped to schedule another meeting in another two months.