By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
Three residents showed up for a 2nd Ward meeting Tuesday in Amsterdam, but despite the poor turnout, the group spent an hour discussing the ongoing issue of abandoned properties in their neighborhoods as well as the rest of the city.
Residents expressed frustration about the increasing blight impacting neighborhoods and discussed possible solutions to how the city can begin to address it.
"It's a giant snowball that I don't see going down," said a resident from Second Street who asked to remain anonymous. "It's gotten too far. There are 50 to 70 homes just in the east end. Just drive around."
Resident Patricia Beck cited city-owned properties that have been left abandoned for years.
"This has got to stop," she said, showing pictures of properties in her neighborhood. "Somebody in elected office, somebody working for the city has got to start taking action that shows results."
Second Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman agreed and said she drove through her ward to look at the houses and make notes of which ones need attention.
"The blight is horrible," she said. "What has happened to us? Have we lost our Amsterdam pride? This was a gorgeous city."
She added that it's not just in Ward 2.
"There were some properties I wrote down that were not in my ward, but I don't care. It shouldn't matter," she said.
Residents said the abandoned properties are not just an eyesore but also create safety and health hazards and could potentially be a liability issue for the city.
" What happens when a building falls down? We have children around," Beekman said. "Then people are going to hold the city reliable."
Fourth Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler was also in attendance, with Montgomery County District 7 Legislator Barbara Wheeler, who represents the 2nd Ward.
Hatzenbuhler said part of the problem is that while there is code enforcement, many people are able to negotiate out of paying their fine and still get compliance.
"We are looking at raising the minimum fine. These landlords don't recognize the opportunity when it's at $150 or $250 or $350," Hatzenbuhler said. "So we have to change the fine structure which I am working on with code enforcement."
Beck stated that with the amount of blight in the city, "the court should be standing-room-only and the court schedule should be backed up."
Wheeler said there have been efforts in the past where funding became available at the county level which was supposed to go the city to help with the abandoned properties but it fell through.
"At one point $250,000 was put aside but it became a power struggle," Wheeler said. "It should not be about power. The county and the city need to work together."
With budget review currently under way, residents asked Hatzenbuhler and Beekman to see how much revenue is obtained through fines and code enforcement. They also said the city needs to start thinking outside the box in addressing the problem.
Everyone agreed that the biggest problem was that there was no accountability.
"If you bring about accountability, it will start to work," Wheeler said. "It will start to chip away."
The 2nd Ward meeting was the first of several ward meetings being held this month to provide residents an avenue to raise concerns.