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4th Ward forum a hit with residents

April 2nd, 2014

Cindy Holmes, one of three new faces on the Newburgh City Council, is reaching out to her 4th Ward constituents in an effort to resolve perceived problems in her district.

Holmes hosted a public safety discussion at the YMCA Community Room on Broadway, arranging with Police Chief Michael Ferrara and Fire Chief Michael Vatter to help answer questions by citizens seeking answers to persistent local problems.

New members of the council, Holmes, Genie Abrams and Karen Mejia, have expressed an interest in holding meetings in their wards to help find solutions to local problems.

The Saturday 4th Ward discussion centered on questions about public safety issues. If Saturday’s turnout at the YMCA Community Room is any indication, the concept is off to a roaring success. The room was packed to capacity with residents jockeying for spots as more chairs were hastily brought in to ease the crush of people.

Chief Vatter, who doubles as head of the City’s Code Division, acknowledged codes as a challenge in Newburgh.

“The Codes Bureau, at best is a difficult operation in the city,” Vatter began. “We’ve been trying to maximize our available resources and make Newburgh work smarter.

“Going forward, we are identifying quality of life isssues as Councilwoman Holmes has been talking about; and as Councilwoman Mejia agrees is one of her big issues. What we do know is we have a lot of dumping going on in the city where people are dumping everything from garbage to television sets, large bulk furniture. You name it, it’s out there,” he said.

“With Courtney Kain’s help, we got a sanitation inspector paid for through the Community Development Block Grant program. He’s working closely with one of our Code Enforcement officers.”

Vatter said the program is called the “Jesse and Anthony Show,” named for the inspector and code officer.

“What we know is most of the dumping occurs on vacant or abandoned properties. Of that, about a third is in City hands, a third is a ‘Zombie’ property and a third remains in private hands.”

He described “Zombie” properties are those where a bank has instituted a foreclosure action against the owner. The owner has most likely left, moved on. But the bank never finished closing out the process.

“So, you have a legal action where [the owner] is issued foreclosure papers; she moves out; nobody moves in; the bank never takes full possession of the property.

“What happens is the title never changes. The owner still remains the same. Though the bank may be actually paying the taxes and other fees, but they are really reluctant to do any work on the property or, if they are, it’s a really long process because they don’t want to spend the money.”

Vatter said that the City discovered that most of the dumping issues were on properties that had someone in a relationship with a foreclosure action. Taking it through the court system just takes too long, he said.

“Every day that pile sits there it grows,” he said.

The City is trying to resolve that issue by issuing a violation the very first day the problem is discovered.

“We issue a notice of abatement,” he said, a 20-day process. “We still have to abide by all the constitutional rules and all that. We find out who’s got it; they’ve got 20 days to clean it up. On the 21st day, DPW is going to come and clean it up and we’re going to send the bill to whoever.

“It could be going to the bank. It could be going to the original owner. We don’t know, but at the end of the day, there are only two possible outcomes. The first is, we got it cleaned up. So it didn’t get overwhelming. The second outcome is either the bank is going to pay the bill, because it’s going to become part of the taxes, or if they don’t pay it, we [the City] get first place on the lien in front of the mortgage holder.

“Now we have sway over the bank to take the property back,” he said.

That was just one example of what the City is doing to resolve problems that are costing property owners money.

“In these kind of situations, your property is worth about $7,500 less than it ought to be,” Vatter said.

Over the next hour, the two chiefs answered questions from the crowd, explaining how residents can get resolution to their problems and where they can go to get satisfaction for previously irritating issues.

By ALLAN GAUL
agaul@tcnewspapers.com

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