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14 Goodwin Ave.

Seen here is a home at 14 Goodwin Ave. that was vacant for a few years before being sold by the city, which had seized it for back taxes. The city is looking to purchase software to help the Building and Codes Department more efficiently deal with vacant structures.  

GLENS FALLS — The city is considering an idea to assess a fee on vacant properties and use the revenue to help with its expanded code enforcement initiatives.

Code Enforcement Officer Kris Vanderzee said other municipalities including Gloversville, Albany and Schenectady charge fees for vacant buildings. Most of the fees are around $500.

“Right now, we have 70 vacant properties that are sitting with banks. Seventy times $500 is $35,000,” he said last Wednesday at a budget workshop.

Vanderzee one of the biggest problems the city deals with is chasing after the banks to make sure they are maintaining these properties. He cited a recent property on Montcalm that has two bags of garbage on the lawn and he has trouble reaching the property owner.

The fee would help recoup some of the enforcement costs.

Councilwoman-At-Large Jane Reid said the fee makes sense.

“Our fire and our police are stressed by those 70 structures, so it’s a valid charge,” she said.

Discussions about this fee are just preliminary and the revenue has not been included in the proposed 2020 budget. In the short term, the city is proceeding with its efforts to revamp the Building and Codes Department.

Fire Chief James Schrammel told the council members in attendance that he would like to purchase a software package from BAS that would make it easier and more efficient for code enforcement officers to do their jobs. The software would be compatible with mobile devices like tablets.

“We could actually have the inspectors doing things on the road out of their cars, rather than having to do paper notes and bring it back to the station, bring it back to the building (and) type everything in,” he said.

Printers can also be included in the package, according to Schrammel.

“You could actually print the violation, give the violation prior to leaving the site,” he said.

The Fire Department has been working at lot more closely with Building and Codes on the vacant property issues.

After looking at various options, Schrammel said he believes the BAS program offers the best fit for the city at the most reasonable cost. The price tag is about $3,600.

The council members were able to find money in the proposed budget by moving some money around including $2,000 in a software line item and $1,000 from a line item involving lease payments for a motor vehicle.

The Common Council last month approved entering into a 36-month lease for an electric vehicle with Hyundai for a price of $106.52 up front and $62.50 per month. The lease payments are a little less expensive than the city anticipated, so there will be a savings in that line item, as well as lower gasoline expenses.

Schrammel said one of the advantages of the BAS software is that different add-on options can be purchased later on including a public database of building complaints and how the city is addressing them.

Councilwoman Diana Palmer said the software will also help with another initiative the city is working on including a rental inspection and rental registration program.

The topic has been talked about at previous Building and Codes Committee workshops and includes having landlords provide a local contact person if there was an emergency and having the city inspect the units to make sure they were not illegal converted.

There is also going to be staffing changes in the office. Chris Anderson, the part-time building inspector, is planning to retire in the coming year. The city plans to hire one part-time employee before Anderson leaves so there is some overlap. It is also is considering hiring a second part-time person. Palmer said previously that under this proposed arrangement, one person would focus on inspections and the other on zoning and planning issues.

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Michael Goot covers politics, business, Glens Falls and Lake George. Reach him at 518-742-3320 or mgoot@poststar.com and follow his blog at http://poststar.com/blogs/michael_goot/.

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