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Code Enforcement Should Pay for Itself, But It Doesn’t

Village of Brockport 2013-14 Approved Budget
Village of Brockport 2013-14 Approved Budget
Village of Brockport 2013-14 Approved Budget

Brockport’s 2013-2014 Adopted Budget has a built in loss of $74,979 for code enforcement.

That makes absolutely no sense. The Code Enforcement Department should pay for itself.

According to the 2013-2014 budget, it will cost $89,979 to run the code enforcement Department in fiscal year 2013-2014.

But the village budget projects that the village will only collected $15,000 in Safety Inspection Fees.

That is absolutely insane.

And it’s crazy because the Village Board reviews the Fee Schedule every year and sets the fees at the annual organizational meeting. That meeting is coming up on July 21st.

Unfortunately, in the past few years, the Fee Schedule review has been a rubber stamp of whatever was done the year before, regardless of whether it made any sense.

Last month, found that Mayor Margay Blackman is not familiar with the Fee Schedule. She hasn’t even read it.

To make matters worse, this past weekend, found that Trustee Bill Andrews doesn’t know anything about the Fee Schedule either.

When he was shown a copy of the eight-page fee Schedule printed on green paper that Village Clerk Leslie Morelli keeps at the front desk at the Village Hall, Bill Andrews didn’t even recognize it.

Shame on both of them.

Shame on Margay Blackman and shame on Bill Andrews. No wonder the people who supported them are fed up with their behavior.

Blackman and Andrews get paid to know and manage the Fee Schedule, but they have never even bothered to look at it.

No wonder they approved a budget that has a built in loss of $74,979 for code enforcement.

No wonder their supporters are bitterly disappointed with their performance.

But this year could be different. Trustees Carol Hannan and Val Ciciotti spent an enormous amount of time this winter researching the records on Code Enforcement.

Carol Hannan and Val Ciciotti are doing exactly what they were elected to do.

Their research is what led to Scott Zarnsdorf’s resignation. The next step is to bring the Fee Schedule into line with the needs of the village.

But because Margay Blackman and Bill Andrews are already defensive about the Fee Schedule, the outcome of any effort to update the Fee Schedule, and bring it into the 21st Century, may depend on how John LaPierre votes.

This could be the moment of truth for John LaPierre.

Here are the expenditure figures for code enforcement from page 6 of the 2013-2014 Adopted Budget.

Safety Inspection Acct. Code
Code Enforcement – Personal Services A3620.1000..........$83,079
Code Enforcement – Equipment A3620.4000............................$300
Code Enforcement – Contractual A3620.4001............................-
Code Enforcement – Telephone/Cell A3620.4010..................$1,500
Code Enforcement – Training A3620.4020.................................$500
Code Enforcement – Computer Supplies A3620.4030.............$300
Code Enforcement – Fuel A3620.4040....................................$1,800
Code Enforcement –Association Dues A3620.4050.................$250
Code Enforcement – Uniforms A3620.4080...............................$200
Code Enforcement – Miscellaneous A3620.4090......................$800
Code Enforcement – Postage A3620.4200................................$800
Code Enforcement – Vehicle Maintenance A3620.4210.........$4500

The income figures for code enforcement are on page 13 of the 2013-2014 Adopted Budget.

Departmental Income
Safety Inspec Fees A1560..........$15,000

Once again, $89,979 in expenses minus $15,000 income from fees means there is a built in loss of $74,979 for code enforcement.

The actual figures are ever so slightly different, but not by much.

In response to a FOIL request the Village Clerk responded that the Village actually collected $16,700 in code enforcement fees last year.

But that still leaves a $73,279 a shortfall.

You can’t balance the budget when you build in shortfalls like that.

Granted, the Code Enforcement Office should generate some revenue from fines.

But the revenue generated from code enforcement fines has been miniscule, and that is one of the main reasons that Brockport has decided to abandon the Sweden Town Court and establish a Village Court.

The Village of Brockport’s 2013-2014 Adopted Budget includes the following line for Fine and Forfeitures.

Fines & Forfeitures A2610..........$50,000

But a study of the data from past years shows that the vast majority of those Fines & Forfeitures come from parking tickets and open container violations, not Code Enforcement.

Part of the problem was that Scott Zarnsdorf didn’t issue appearance tickets for code violations (and that is one of the reasons he is gone).

In 2008, Zarnsdorf issued 4 appearance tickets for code violations; in 2009 he issued 5 appearance tickets, and in 2010 he issued 6 appearance tickets.

In 2010 (the last year that a complete analysis has been done) the Village of Brockport collected a whopping $250 for fines levied for violations of the Village Code pertaining to property maintenance and occupancy.

In 2010, the Village of Brockport collected a whopping $250 for fines levied for violations of the Village Code.

That’s right, a total of $250.00 in Code Enforcement fines. No wonder the Village is forming a Village Court.

In 2010, the Sweden Town Court ruled on 260 violations of the Brockport Village Code.

Of those 260 case, only two involved property violations of the Village Code. For some unexplained reason, the information on the other four appearance tickets was redacted by the court.

The Sweden Town Court ruled on one case of Failure to Maintain Exterior and one case of a Property Occupancy Violation (more than 3 unrelated people in a single-family home converted to a rental property).

The Failure to Maintain Exterior case resulted in a $250.00 fine. The Property Occupancy Violation resulted in a fine of $0.00.

Read that again, a fine of $0.00 for a Property Occupancy Violation.

In the real world, the fines from code enforcement violations and the code enforcement fees would pay for 100% of the cost of the Code Enforcement Department.

But we don’t live in the real world. We live in a world where the Sweden Town Court gives the slumlords a slap on the wrist for code violations, while the Mayor and a highly respected Village Trustee don’t even bother to look at the Fee Schedule.

So it never dawns on them that the Fees should go a long way toward covering the cost of the Code Enforcement Department.

One of the reasons for establishing a Village Court is the assumption that the judges in the Village Court will assess fines for code violations that have something to do with common sense, rather than politics.

Meanwhile, the Fee Schedule is out of whack and the Village Board has the power to do something about it.

The question is, will they?

Or will they do what they did last year and the year before that, and vote to renew the Fee Schedule even though the fee for a Life-Safety Inspection Deficiency in a rental property is a measly “$10.00 each item”.

The Village Board can make a dent in the code enforcement deficit by fixing the $10 fee for a Life-Safety Inspection Deficiency, and then doubling or tripling all the other fees on the Fee Schedule.

Updating the Fee Schedule won’t erase the $73,279 a shortfall in the code enforcement budget, but it is a step in the right direction.

Then if the judges in the Village Court impose reasonable fines for code violations, instead of the scandalously low fines imposed by the judges on the Sweden Town Court, Brockport’s Code Enforcement Department will pay for itself.

And that’s the way it should be.

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