The village of Herkimer’s problems can be solved, but it will take an effort on the part of business owners and residents as well as village officials.
That was the message Mayor Mark Ainsworth and Alex Dorantes of Herkimer Now offered those who attended Tuesday’s village board meeting to raise questions and concerns about Herkimer’s downtown and other areas of the village.
Fred Weisser, of Maple Grove Avenue, asked if village officials had looked into placing a gate at the top of Reservoir Road. This idea was raised at a meeting last month when residents complained about the traffic in their area.
Trustee Harold Stoffolano said police Chief Joseph Malone is researching the matter. He noted such a gate would affect 911 Center employees as well as Herkimer County Community College students.
Quotes are also being obtained on cameras for the business area.
Weisser said village codes need to be enforced and a full-time codes officer may be needed, at least temporarily.
Ainsworth said the problems of empty storefronts and businesses that come and go are area-wide and not confined to the village of Herkimer. Even if a property owner is cited for a codes violation, he said, the matter may not be resolved quickly.
“Chief Malone is working on it,” said Ainsworth. “There’s a process and he’s following the process.”
Stoffolano noted in one case “the guy who holds the mortgage lives right in the village and we can’t even get him to cut the grass.”
In the case of the former Glory Days building, he said people from out of town bought it sight unseen.
The mayor added he had put them in touch with Jeremy Silverman of Grant and Essential Management Services to see if there are grant funds available to renovate the building.
Weisser said the new owner had said renovations would be under way within three months, but that has not happened.
“They could at least fix the windows,” he said.
Trustee Katherine Nichols said the flood has slowed the efforts of the property maintenance and codes officers. Property Maintenance Officer Richard Cancelino was assigned the trash and debris detail after the flood. She said his position is a 15-hour a week post.
“We do have a system,” she said. “We send certified letters. Sometimes we hit a brick wall.”
“Is there a way to get the county involved,” Weisser asked.
Stoffolano pointed to the Quackenbush property as an example of a case where there has been little cooperation between the county and the village.
Herkimer County Legislator Helen Rose, who attended the meeting, said the county Industrial Development Agency holds what is referred to as a “nominal title” and said she would talk to the IDA about maintenance of the property.
Page 2 of 3 - Concerns were also raised about the number of people simply standing around on Main Street. People need affordable housing, Rose said, but there is a concentration of people on assistance living in apartments on Main Street.
She said she had a meeting scheduled with the commissioner of Social Services and would bring some of the concerns raised to that meeting.
Rose encouraged residents to attend meetings of the county Legislature. If they wish to speak, they must sign in prior to the meeting, she said, adding legislators are not permitted to respond to comments.
“We respond better when you put pressure on us,” she said.
Weisser wanted to know how many police are on duty at a time. Malone said there are two to four officers on the street.
Joseph Deeb said he has noticed more patrols on Main Street - “at least one an hour,” he said.
Terry Rizzo, of Big Boys, said years ago she knew the police officers. They would introduce themselves and make sure they had contact information in case of an emergency. “I do not know one officer,” she said.
Rizzo complained about drugs in the King Street area and concerns about the way a halfway house nearby is operated. She said a couple of people came knocking on her door one night looking for a syringe.
Ainsworth said she should have called the police and this was the first he had heard about problems with the halfway house.
“They’d just go in the building,” Rizzo said. “If someone comes to the door, they don’t have to tell who’s in there.”
Attorney Nicholas Macri said this is due to the privacy law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Ainsworth said he would look into the matter.
Roseanne Servello Weisser commented one North Main Street businessman had painted his building, but was criticized for the colors he used
“It’s the Wild West down there; anything goes,” she said. “There’s no blueprint.”
Ainsworth said the village is considering a local law to have the area designated as an historic district.
Trustee Anthony Brindisi commented on the complaints about people loitering on Main Street. “If we chased everybody off Main Street, we’d have an empty street,” he said. “The key is to get businesses in the buildings. Then the business owners will police their own buildings.”
Malone said the police can’t arrest someone for sitting in front of their residence.
“With coolers,” someone asked.
He replied police officers check the coolers for alcoholic beverages.
Page 3 of 3 - Malone also said some of the fears people have about Main Street are unfounded. “Criminal activity is not up any more on Main Street that it was before. My daughter walks up and down Main Street and I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “There are no random muggings or assaults. You can walk down Main Street day or night. People don’t bother you.”
“We have to focus on the potential, not on what we’ve lost,” said Ainsworth.
He pointed out a consultant had advised that any changes will need to come from the bottom up, not the local government down.
He encouraged those present to come to Herkimer Now meetings and work to improve the business district.
Dorantes, who owns a building on North Main Street and is a Herkimer Now member, said he hears the same comments at Herkimer Now meetings and on the street. “We must love it or we wouldn’t be here,” he said.
Dorantes said people don’t sit in front of his building because he is there to make sure they don’t. “You have to be down there. You’ve got to be boots on the ground. If somebody throws something down say ‘Hey, pick that up.’ It’s never going to be 1950 again, but it can be 2020 or 2025. We just have to be down there. Regular people have to walk on Main Street,” he said.
Herkimer Now has scheduled walks on Main Street at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 17 and Oct. 8. Participants will meet at the park beside Frank J. Basloe Library on North Main Street and walk together along Main Street. Plans call for the group to gather for refreshments after completing the walk.