Geneva City Council held its regularly scheduled December meeting on Wednesday – taking two important actions that didn’t require formal votes.
First, City Manager Sage Gerling and Assistant City Manager Adam Blowers asked the Council for direction regarding how to proceed in regards to the City’s winter on-street parking restrictions. Staff expressed concerns that the pilot project, which allowed residents to park on-street during the winter unless there was an active snow emergency, had created safety concerns and had slowed plowing because a significant number of residents were not moving their cars timely. Blowers indicated that at one point there had been a need to tow almost 200 cars, but that there was insufficient tow truck capacity to accomplish this. Blowers stated that this resulted in plows having to plow around parked cars, which created dangerous icy and messy road conditions once these cars were moved. Blowers also stated that this had resulted in significant Department of Public Works overtime expenditures because of the slower plowing process.
Despite these concerns, the Council almost unanimously supported staying with the pilot project for now because residents had made it clear to them that residents did not want to be restricted from on-street parking when the weather did not require plowing. Consequently, Gerling and Blowers agreed that the City would revert to the pilot program for the 2020-2021 winter season. The City will notify residents of the evenings cars must be off the street. Blowers indicated that the previously used texting system was labor-intensive and had not gone well. So Blowers stated that the City would initially post snow days at the top of the City’s website www.cityofgenevany.com. Blowers also indicated that the City would continue to look for other methods of informing residents about days on which parking will be restricted. Ultimately, both City staff and the Council hoped that residents would employ common sense and park in accordance with winter parking regulations on evenings where the weather looks to have the potential for significant snowfall that would require plowing.
As part of the winter season parking regulation discussion, the Council and staff both expressed a desire to rework the current parking ordinance so that the Council did not have to have this discussion annually. The Council floated several ideas for addressing the concerns regarding winter parking. First, several Councilors suggested opening up City parking lots for evening parking on snow days to relieve the need for on-street parking. Second, when Blowers informed the Council that the current fine for violating winter parking regulations was only $20, many Councilors felt that this fine wasn’t a sufficient incentive for residents to move their cars given the difficulty of locating nearby parking in many areas. Consequently, almost the entire Council felt that it would be appropriate to significantly raise the fine to create a more urgent incentive for residents to relocate their vehicles on snow days. Only Councilor Laura Salamendra (Ward 5) spoke against this proposal. Salamendra felt that residents would not be able to afford an increase in fines. Finally, Councilor Ken Camera (Ward 4) felt that the most severe incentive would be the cost of having one’s car towed. So at one point, he suggested that the City work to increase towing capacity during the winter by opening up parking lots within the City for towing companies to use, thus making it quicker and more efficient for towing company’s tow during the winter.
The Council also tackled the issue of scheduling the public hearing for the Police Review Board (PRB) Public Law. The Public Hearing process requires that the Council hold two meetings. First the Council must hold a short meeting to “Designate” the public law for the hearing. This would simply be identifying the Public Law document that would be used for the Public Hearing. The Council was awaiting the most current redraft of the public law based on Monday, November 30, 2020’s Council Work Session to accomplish this designation. The second meeting would be the Public Hearing itself.
The Council spent significant time debating the scheduling of these meetings. Part of the issue was scheduling conflicts. But there was also a divide between the Council on the desired timing for the Public Hearing. One side wanted the Council to hold the Public Hearing as soon as possible. This contingent of the Council led by Salamendra, argued that residents had waited long enough already for this law and that it was important for residents to have the law in place by the end of the year. The other side argued that the PRB law has undergone significant changes and that the public should have adequate time to review it and prepare comments. This side also contended that it was inappropriate to hold a public hearing during the holiday season because residents might not be able to participate due to their holiday commitments. Ultimately, the Council decided to hold a brief, no more than 30 minute, meeting on December 8, 2020, at 6:00 P.M. to designate the Public Law. The Council then rejected Salamendra’s proposal to hold the Public Hearing during the holiday season on December 28, 2020. Instead, the Council scheduled the Public Hearing for January 13, 2021, at 6:00 P.M.
In other actions that did not require formal Council action, the Council announced that the December 2, 2020 meeting would be the last meeting televised by Finger Lakes Television (FLTV). FLTV will not cover any Geneva City Council meetings in 2021 because the Council eliminated funding for this service during the Budget process.
In addition, Gerling announced that because the City was unable to secure no pay raise agreements from 100% of City employee unions, City staff would not come back to the Council seeking a budget amendment to reinstate the two previously eliminated police officer positions. Consequently, it appeared that the City would be laying off the two probationary police officers that the City paid to train.
In official business, the Council considered Local Law #3-2020 and Ordinance #2-2020. Local Law #3-2020 proposed a 2.5% sewer rate increase, while Ordinance #2-2020 proposed a 4% increase in water rates. Wednesday’s meeting was a Public Hearing for Local Law #3-2020, at which no residents spoke. Wednesday was also the “Second Reading” of Ordinance #2-2020, which allowed the Council to formally vote on it.
In previous years approval of the sewer rate public law and water rate ordinance have been perfunctory non-controversial items. However, this time Councilor Jan Regan (Ward 3) stated that she would oppose both items because she wanted to revisit the idea of deferring maintenance programs to try and save enough money to avoid the rate increases. Councilor Ken Camera (Ward 4) agreed with Regan and Councilor Anthony Noone (At-Large) strongly opposed raising the water and sewer rates because he thought it was the wrong time to impose these new expenses on residents. Ultimately, the Council approved both Public Law #3-2020 and Ordinance #2-2020 on a split 5-4 vote with Regan, Camera, Salamendra, and Noone voting against the measures.
The Council also considered Resolution #68-2020, which would allow the Comptroller to add a lien to properties that incurred code enforcement fees in 2020. The placement of the lien would then allow the City to collect the code enforcement fees in the same manner as property taxes. The fees were incurred for mandated housing inspections, grass cutting, rubbish removal, and water charges. These liens were necessary because the fees had not been paid for these services. Resolution #68-2020 lists the parcel numbers for each property in Geneva that will be subject to a lien. The Resolution also identifies the amount of each lien to be enacted. The Council unanimously approved Resolution #68-2020.
The final two resolutions considered by the Council on Wednesday proposed scheduling Public Hearings to receive comments regarding the potential sale of property located at 163 Oak Street, and at 11 West Street. Blowers indicated that the City had acquired both properties through tax enforcement actions. The City had received an offer to purchase the property at 163 Oak Street from a neighboring landowner. This property currently cannot be developed under existing zoning laws. However, the land may be developable if the current proposed zoning changes are enacted. Blowers indicated that the request for bids on this property only resulted in the one bidder, who has bid $100. Blowers also indicated that the property located at 11 West Street is a bit different in that it currently has a residence on the land. He stated that the best bid received for this property was $23,000. Blowers reiterated to the Council that approving the resolutions on Wednesday would only schedule the Public Hearings to receive public comments on the potential land sales. Both resolutions passed unanimously.
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