New codes information sharing system could be model for entire state

Representatives of the Center for Technology in Government and the City of Schenectady met with the Common Council, Mayor Ann Thane, and Community and Economic Director Rob von Hasseln on Tuesday to present and answer questions about their plan to develop a system by which four area cities, Amsterdam, Gloversville, Schenectady, and Troy, will be able to share information on the reputations of landlords. The cities received a $556,000 grant from NY State in December 2014 in order to build the system.

Derek Werthmuller, Director of Technology Innovation and Services at the center gave a brief history about how the idea for the project began.

“Several years ago, several cities, Schenectady, Amsterdam, Albany, Colonie, and Albany County, started meeting at our center to talk about sharing information as it related to code enforcement; buildings and properties inside their jurisdiction, and talked about the problems they were each facing that they couldn’t solve on their own. The nature of some of the problems they were facing were problems they could help each other solve.”

Werthmuller said that when he approached the NY Department of State for funds to build the project, he was asked to quantify the economic impact abandoned properties have on cities.

“We found that a single property costs approximately $65,000 and takes somewhere between 1 and 7 years through this decline,” said Werthmuller.

He explained that there were both direct and indirect costs that made up that figure, such as city time associated with legal, engineering, and financial issues, as well as indirect costs such as uncollected taxes and the loss of property values surrounding the abandoned building.

“The goal here of the project is to interrupt the cycle. Interrupt the cycle of good properties not being cared for,” said Werthmuller. “Interrupting the cycle requires information.”

Werthmuller said that although city codes departments store information on codes violations, it’s not currently in a form that makes it useful for reporting or sharing.

By sharing information, cities who are selling properties will be able to research the reputation of buyers in other cities. Each city would be free to make their own decisions as far as what they considered to be a good reputation.

Von Hasseln said the system will allow the city to bar certain buyers from participating in auctions based on their reputation in other cities.

“Do we have that legality?” asked Alderman Ron Barone.

“Absolutely, we can set out own conditions on our auctions,” replied von Hasseln.

“Then why haven’t we be doing that?” asked Barone.

“Because we haven’t had the opportunity to share information,” replied von Hasseln.

Von Hasseln also said that the state attorney general’s office may be more likely to take on a case against a delinquent landlord with properties reported in multiple cities, which the new system will help to identify.

According to Werthmuller, the center will manage the project and work with each of the cities to plan and then implement the system over the course of the next two years.

The grant money only requires a 10% match from each city. According to von Hasseln, the project will cost Amsterdam approximately $7000 per year for two years.

Werthmuller said that the project may grow beyond the initial four cities. “The Department of State, when they awarded the grant, said one of their interests is that this would be a model for the rest of the state and that it would be built in such a way that it can expand and grow,” he said.

“This is innovative, this is new,” said Thane. “We will be part of something that can really change the course of code enforcement in the entire state. It’s huge for Amsterdam.”

Later, during the regular meeting, the Common Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the mayor to enter into a inter-municipal agreement with the other three cities in order to move forward with the project.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.