Village Trustees discuss abandoned properties problem

What to do about a growing number of abandoned properties popping up in the village and creating a potential safety or fire hazard was the topic of discussion at the March 18 Stillwater Board of Trustees meeting.

The village, like many other municipalities, has been dealing with this issue for several years now as the recent economic downturn has prompted some property owners to abandon their homes due to bank foreclosures, death of owners and other issues. In many cases the village has tried without success to contact the lending institutions or next of kin responsible for the properties, and so the buildings – one by one – have fallen into disrepair.

Village Clerk Sheristin Tedesco said the village’s latest step has been to contact the Saratoga County Office of Real Property, which has agreed to do investigative work as to what other municipalities “like ours” are doing to handle these situations “financially.”

“This is a small village and we don’t have the kind of money in the budget to go around tearing down or boarding up houses every time someone decides they can’t pay the mortgage and moves out of town,” said Mayor Ernest Martin. “It has created a real problem for us.”

The village is not alone. Building abandonment has become such a problem around the state and country, as a result of the recession, that larger municipalities now have entire departments dedicated to working on this problem, explained village Code Enforcement Officer Lawrence Allen.

Allen said he received a call in March from a woman inquiring about a vacant home at the corner of School and Palmer streets that, unbeknownst to him, may be going on the auction block. “Hopefully, that property will have a happy ending,” he said, and “get a rehab.”

Meanwhile, a recent article published in the New York State Conference of Mayors’ Municipal Bulletin addressed this very problem facing cities, towns and villages. The article went on to explain why some people walk away from ownership even though they have money invested in these places.

“When a property becomes so run down or antiquated that it must be rehabilitated to make it marketable but the cost of rehab will exceed its resulting market value, the natural and probable result is for the property to be abandoned,” the article stated. “Local officials need to recognize these situations in order to avoid creating a cycle of repeated abandonment.”

When all else fails, some municipalities have used the legal system to condemn properties, take over title and ownership, and spend money to tear them down because they are a potential health and safety threat to residents.

“Then when the banks or families eventually come looking for the properties,” explained Trustee John Basile, “they must repay the municipality for the excavation costs before recouping the land. We may have to change some of our bylaws but it is an option.”

In other business, Mayor Martin read a written statement from Village Attorney James Peluso regarding Stillwater’s ongoing litigation with General Electric for allegedly dumping PCBs into the village’s water supply, leading to a costly water project to buy and pipe drinking water from the Saratoga County Water Authority.

“Over the past two weeks G.E., the Town of Waterford, Town of Stillwater, and Village of Stillwater have reached an agreement in principal to resolve their dispute to the satisfaction of all parties. The necessary agreements are now being finalized. That’s all I can say at this time.”

Village Trustees also heard the following reports/updates and took the following actions on March 18:

  • Village Trustees unanimously passed a resolution in favor of a new “Best Value Procurement Law” – Local Law No. 2 of 2014 – for purchase contracts and contracts for services. New York State has historically required municipalities to award these contracts to the lowest bidders whose bids meet the requirements of the specifications for a project. That section of state law has since been amended to enable municipalities, who pass new local laws, to award bids based on “best value.” Best value means the basis for awarding purchase contracts and services to the offerer that optimizes quality, cost and efficiency, among responsive and responsible offers. A public hearing on the “best value” law will be held at 7:15 p.m., April 15, in the village board room.
  • Mayor Martin distributed to Trustees a copy of the preliminary village budget for 2014-15 fiscal year to review for “additions and deletions” prior to a scheduled budget workshop on April 1 at 7 p.m. The Village Board expects to pass the budget at its April 15 monthly meeting. A public hearing on the budget will be held that night at 7 p.m.
  • Mayor Martin reported that he is working with Saratoga County officials and the village engineers to bring the village into compliance with new state regulations now affecting many municipalities regarding storm water runoff.
  • Trustee Basile reported that village officials met recently with the USDA to close out the paperwork on the village’s longstanding water project. The village can expect to receive monies from the USDA loan to pay final bills shortly, he said. Basile also gave an update on the village’s “force main” sewer project to prevent problems on Bunce Lane. Basile said the village will need another easement, this time from Stillwater Central School, in order to complete drainage work for a manhole affecting the American Legion.
  • At the request of Trustee Timothy Campbell, the Village Board approved a resolution to buy and replace a broken vacuum pump on its tanker truck used to clean out sewer sludge from “man-ways.” The village hopes the repair, not to exceed $2,500, will last a few years until a new truck can be purchased.
  • Trustee Judith Wood-Shaw reported that she still hasn’t heard back from vendors about several requests for proposals for a new backup generator for Village Hall to meet requirements of the Emergency Management Plan. Trustees discussed the possibility, instead, of using a backup generator that once serviced the water treatment plant before it was shut down. There was a question, however, if that generator would be strong enough to power the building under its current electrical setup. Mayor Martin said he would call in a professional to investigate that further. Wood-Shaw also reported that the Emergency Management Team would be participating this spring in a “tabletop” drill – one of four planned for the year – to practice emergency response during different “mock” emergency scenarios.