By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
The Amsterdam Common Council and various departments are taking steps to minimize the difficulties surrounding snow removal and winter parking.
At a Public Safety Committee meeting in City Hall this week, the Common Council and Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane met with Amsterdam Police Chief Gregory Culick and Department of Public Works General Foreman Ray Halgas to discuss proposed changes to the winter parking ordinance.
The ordinance, set before the council by 1st Ward Alderman and Public Safety Chair Joseph Isabel, called for the revision of the winter parking rules in the city code to facilitate snow removal.
Isabel began the meeting by expressing his concern for outside visitors who don't know the parking rules in the winter time.
"There are signs posted at the entrances to the city," Halgas said. "And that's what's in the existing code that you have right now."
Thane said there have also been suggestions that signs be posted in the middle of the city to remind residents of the winter parking rules.
Fourth Ward Alderman David Dybas attempted to change every instance in the ordinance that says "may" to "shall," when referring to towing or removing vehicles from streets.
But Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said it depends upon the situation for the removal and is often up to the discretion of the officer for the towing.
"Removing the discretion would be a mistake," DeCusatis said. "Make a tow in every instance? It's going to cause problems."
Culick said that right now the department doesn't have "a lot of bite" because vehicle and traffic law states the department has to wait 72 hours to tow a vehicle.
"This will put the teeth back into it," he said of the ordinance. "And I like Gerry's idea of leaving it open to discretion."
The chief said he could bring a few officers in during a winter storm and make it their only job to ticket and tow.
"I think [in] that first storm, the message will get out," he said of the proposed new rules, though he still had concerns about getting the message out to the residents.
The department will have to authorize all the tow companies to be involved, Culick explained of the towing process, because it takes about an hour to tow just two cars.
"We want the streets cleared," he said. "We want the cars moved."
DeCusatis clarified for the council that if they were to pass the ordinance changes, the city could start towing noncompliant vehicles.
The proposed ordinance states that in the event of a snow fall greater than three inches, parking on streets where there is normally parking on either side is prohibited for 24 hours after snow fall.
The suggested ordinance change also states that the mayor, Halgas, or Culick are authorized to suspend parking on any street in the city for a period not to exceed 72 hours, "provided that any suspension of parking must be preceded by notice to the public in the form of temporary no-parking signs posted 24 hours prior to the parking suspension."
Any vehicle found parked in violation of the winter parking rules or found unattended on any highway of public parking lot that creates an obstruction to planned road maintenance, may be removed by or under the direction of the police department, the changes to the ordinance state.
Officials soon launched into discussion about the differences between the declaration of a snow emergency and the declaration of a state of emergency in relation to what is needed for the pieces of the ordinance.
Some acknowledged the challenges associated with declaring a state of emergency over a snow emergency.
Halgas told the council that it takes a minimum of nine hours for seven to nine trucks to clear the whole city after a storm and the declaration of a snow emergency would be helpful in the towing.
"The problem is we're spending a lot of time going in and out, weaving in and out, where all the cars are parked the wrong way and then we've got to go back again and go back again. We're constantly doing clean-up," Halgas said. "Hopefully, this legislation tonight will move it so that the cars are off the street, we can go curb to curb and not have an issue and hopefully cut down on the amount of time it takes to get the streets cleaned."
In the end, the change was made to add a section about the declaration of a snow emergency.
The proposed ordinance change as of Wednesday explains that when a snowfall of greater than four inches is forecast, the mayor may proclaim a snow emergency that will suspend parking on all city streets for a specific period up to 36 hours after the end of the snowfall.
The council added to the ordinance a list of 17 off-street parking lots that would be added to the city's list of lots that need plowing in the case of heavy snowfall to help accommodate resident vehicles.
The proposed ordinance will be up for a public hearing soon, though as of Wednesday evening, Isabel said there had been no decision yet as to when that hearing will be held.