ANCRAM–What ultimately happens to people in Ancram who dump things where they shouldn’t, build things without a permit, have a bunch of junk cluttering their property, let their septic tanks overflow or fail to put a fence around their in-ground pool?
The answer to all the above: They get a piece of paper in the mail telling them they shouldn’t do what they are doing… and that’s about it.
Town Code Enforcement Officer/Building Inspector Ed Ferratto wants that to change, and he appeared at the September 16 Town Board meeting to ask the board to help him by strengthening the way the town deals with Town Code violators.
CEO/BI Ferratto has a paper arsenal of cease and desist orders and orders to remedy violations, but what he wants are citations or appearance tickets that will require violators to show up in court, or maybe even come before the Town Board to explain themselves. Then, if the violator’s explanation doesn’t cut the mustard, the judge or the board can decide to impose a penalty.
Nominal fines and the possibility of jail time for violations are already written into the law, but historically, the town has not taken anyone to court for a code violation.
The reason is money.
The system is mostly “self-policing,” Town Supervisor Art Bassin said in a phone interview Wednesday. Once Mr. Ferratto sends a letter to notify somebody about a violation, the violator usually makes an effort to fix things in the time allotted.
But there are people who don’t respond to repeated notices, phone calls or visits and just keep on doing whatever bad thing they are doing.
It’s those people, currently about a dozen of them, whom Mr. Ferratto wants to bring to justice.
While Mr. Ferratto lets the supervisor and the town attorney know about these problematic cases, the Town Board has to agree that the town will spend the money, primarily in attorney’s fees, to take the cases to court.
It may not be fair that some people obey the law and others get away with ignoring the law, but Mr. Bassin notes that under the current code, “the town could spend $175/hour on attorney’s fees, just to get someone to pay a $50 fine.”
Town Code is is now under review by the town’s Zoning Revision Committee to coordinate it with the town’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan. That code would have to change to make provisions for the recovery of legal fees incurred by the town in such cases. Also the Town Board has to commit to taking violators to court, and the public must be made aware in advance of the change in policy, said Mr. Bassin, adding that the aim is “not to be punitive” but to get people to follow the law. He also said the matter will be the subject of ongoing discussion over the coming months.
The name of one frequent code violator that Mr. Ferratto dealt with in a neighboring town where he is also the CEO came up during the discussion. Mr. Ferratto said that his documentation, record-keeping and testimony were instrumental in bringing Salavatore Cascino to justice in state Supreme Court on behalf of the Town of Copake.
In May of this year, state Department of Environmental Conservation inspectors found nine loads of material had been illegally hauled in and dumped in at an inactive gravel mine on Route 82 in Ancram owned by Double D Development, formerly known as the Bryant Mine.
It turned out that Mr. Cascino was responsible for the dumped materials, some of it unrecognizable pulverized construction and demolition (c + d) debris and some of it bricks, concrete blocks, metal and wood.
Double D Development had allowed the dumping in violation of its mining permit, and “the violation will result in enforcement actions,” according to the report filed by the DEC at the time.
The unrecognizable material was sent for testing, and DEC Investigator Jesse Paluch told The Columbia Paper in June that the materials brought in by Mr. Cascino will ultimately have to be removed. Inv. Paluch could not be reached by press time for an update on the case.
Taking a first step toward responding to Mr. Ferratto’s request for a stronger process, the Town Board adopted a resolution to develop and publish a list of all the construction projects that require a building permit, and that the building inspector notify the Town Board in writing monthly about any building code, building permit or zoning law violations.