Jun 11, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
Due to numerous community complaints about unkempt properties within the town, the Skaneateles Town Board last week proposed a new local law to allow the town to maintain structures, equipment and exterior property within town limits and bill the owner for the work.
While the proposed law would affect all residential and nonresidential structures and premises in the town, the law specifically was created for abandoned or foreclosed properties not being maintained, or for buildings and properties whose owners do not live locally and likewise are not maintaining their land or structures.
“This just gives us more teeth for property maintenance,” said Town Codes Officer Debbie Williams. “A lot of towns have this. The village has one for long grass. There is a need for it now [in Skaneateles]. We need to manage properties if the responsible parties won’t do it.”
Introductory Local Law 2012-B, “A local law amending the town code relating to property maintenance,” which was introduced at the board’s June 7 meeting, would “provide minimum requirements and standards for sanitation, protection from the elements, life safety, safety from fire and other hazards and for safe and sanitary maintenance including the responsibility of the owners and occupants in order to protect the public health, safety and general welfare of the residents of this town.”
Specifically, the law would: require sufficient drainage to prevent building deterioration and the accumulation of stagnant water; prohibit grass and weeds in excess of 10 inches; prevent accumulation of rubbish and garbage on a property; allow no more than one registered motor vehicle parked, kept or stored on a property with no vehicle allowed to be in a state of disrepair, wrecked or abandoned; and prevent unsanitary swimming pools that could accumulate stagnant water and therefore harbor mosquitos or create other conditions for a public health hazard. Also, all vacant buildings on a property must be locked or otherwise secured and be maintained in a safe and sanitary condition to prevent community blight or affect public health or safety.
Under the proposed law, property owners who fail to act after notice from the town will be billed for all costs associated with property maintenance that the town authorizes to be completed from a third party contractor. If the owner does not pay, a lien will be put in the property and added to the property taxes.
Violations of the law would be punished by fines beginning at $100 or imprisonment up to six months, and would accumulate with every offense up to a $1,000 fine or imprisonment up to six months, or both. Continuous violations ultimately would accrue penalties on a daily basis.
“I think this is happening because of the economy,” Williams said. “In 20 years, I can’t remember this rash of problems.”
Williams said this law is aimed mainly at neglected properties for which the town cannot find and contact the owner to request the proper maintenance – such as on foreclosed or abandoned houses. Often in such cases, the foreclosing bank is supposed to maintain the property, but sometimes the town cannot find the responsible bank because the original property owner is still listed in the tax records.
Skaneateles Town Tax Collector Lori Milne said there have been so many foreclosures in the state recently that many neglected properties are “in line” for banks to get to the maintenance. “We don’t have as many foreclosures as other municipalities, but even one is too many,” she said.
Williams said she currently has at least three neglected properties in the town that need maintenance. In one case, she knows the original owner is dead, but she cannot find in the tax records who the responsible party is. In a second case, a house on West Lake Road, she knows the owner lives in California but he is not maintaining the property and this is the third year in a row that she has had to contact him about responsible property maintenance.
“It’s just not fair to people who live in the neighborhood,” Williams said. “It’s a nuisance. It can be a public health nuisance when raccoons, rats and other animals get in there. It’s definitely a problem.”
In a separate but related issue, Williams told the town board she currently has two unsafe buildings in the town that need to be either better secured and improved or torn down completely. The town code currently has a clause to allow the town to act on unsafe buildings, and Williams requested that the board send notices to the owners of both structures to take care of the issues, or else the town will do so.
The town has not torn down unsafe properties since 2006, Williams said.
A public hearing to discuss Introductory Local Law 2012-B was scheduled by the board for 7:05 p.m. Thursday, June 21.
The full text of the proposed law will be posted on the town website, townofskaneateles.com.
Also at the meeting, the board:
—Scheduled a special meeting for 4 p.m. Friday, June 29, to award the bid for the Western Gateway Corridor Improvement Project construction contract. Bid information was made available beginning May 30, and bids will be accepted by the town until 3 p.m. Wednesday, June 20. Bid information can be found at townofskaneateles.com under “public notices.”
—Scheduled a public hearing for 7:15 p.m. Thursday, July 19, to discuss the establishment of a drainage district for the Hidden Estates subdivision.
—Authorized Town Highway Superintendent Jim Card to spend up to $14,000 to purchase two new heavy-duty containers to hold wood at the town transfer station.
—Authorized the waiving of the Austin Park Pavilion fee for the Skaneateles Volunteer Fire Department for its annual Labor Day field days, scheduled for Sept 1 and 2.
—Agreed to send a request to the state Department of Transportation to reduce the speed from 55 to 35 miles per hour on New Seneca Turnpike between Fisher Road and the village line.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.