On August 13, 2014, more news about efforts to battle the blight in Binghamton was issued to the public. But in receiving these answers, more questions have been generated as well. Questions that deserve definitive answers.
One of the top issues for Binghamton Mayor Rich David has been in addressing the blight in the City. During this summer Mayor David announced efforts to demolish 8 blight buildings, most located in the Northside of Binghamton. Shortly thereafter Mayor David announced plans to finally bring a grocery store to the Northside of Binghamton, as well as creating a plaza that could help create jobs short- and long-term. At the same time the Office of the Mayor declined our request for interview, and bid us to file FOIA requests for answers to our questions. The result can be seen in our article Why is Binghamton afraid of blight questions?
Expanding those efforts for the City, Mayor David initiated a plan to outsource basic lawn maintenance from City Parks and Recreation crews to Great Choice Lawn Care and Empire Property Management. The cost for the outsourcing will be $25,000 but Mayor David believes this will allow code-enforcement workers to focus on other matters,
"...that will free up some crews to immediately respond to property owners who do not comply with code enforcement violations." - Binghamton Mayor Rich David
At the same time, Stacey Duncan, executive director of the Broome County Land Bank Corp. announced efforts to gain $1-3 million in State grant funds to address the blight in the City. Last year Broome County was able to receive $150,000 in funding, out of $13 million available, from NY State's Community Revitalization Grant program. A key target for any funds that might be received is, again, the Northside of Binghamton as stated by Ms. Duncan,
"That area has been outlined by the city and through our board as an area that would make good sense to put some dollars into.”
While the continued efforts to address the blight are commendable, and far more pro-active than in the prior Administration, it still leaves many questions unanswered. These latest announcements also create new questions that deserve answers. Thus we sent the following FOIA request on August 13, 2014
While we seek a response from the Office of the Mayor, any Department that can provide the following answers will be appreciated:
1) The City set a budget for $200,000 for blight building demolition of which $161,000 has been used. What has been done with the remaining $39,000?
2) According to the Office of Building Construction & Code Enforcement, there does not exist a list of severity of blight/abandoned buildings. Is such a list being created? If not, is there a reason why?
3) In reference to the 171 blighted buildings currently on record, beyond the economic interest created by plans for the Northside grocery, is there any other reason that these buildings are being addressed ahead of potentially hazardous buildings in other locations across the city? Or are there plans to act on those buildings simultaneously with the focus on the Northside?
4) Is there a defined plan that details how blight buildings will be addressed, and over what timespan? If so, what are the details? If not, how are blight buildings being selected for action by the City?
We feel that these are timely and important questions for the residents in Binghamton. While there is no question that the Northside of Binghamton has been overlooked for some time, justification for nearly exclusive action in that one area is needed. Or clarification if that is not actually the case.
Further while high grass may, over time, lead to the deterioration of neighborhoods, a more immediate and lasting cause of blight and its ramifications is a poor economy. Vacant and run down building, whether commercial or residential, may well be a greater deterrent to home buying or rental, and for companies that are choosing locations for new or expanded businesses in New York. Thus it should be asked if there is a plan, and how the actions being announced interact with these plans.
There is no quick fix to the blight affecting Binghamton, Broome County, or many parts of New York State. Even so, the clarity of having a defined plan, and answered questions, is in equal parts just as essential as the announced short-term actions.
A response from the City of Binghamton was received Aug 14, 2014. It states
The Office of Building Construction & Code Enforcement is in receipt of your FOIL request, dated August 13, 2014.
Our Office does not maintain any of requested documents/records as outlined in your FOIL request.
This response was also sent to Jeremy Pelletier, Judith Coderre, and Allison Sosa, what are all part of the City of Binghamton. We will provide any other updates as they are received.