City Hall Reporter's Notebook: Vacancies and Vacants edition
Alderman William Notte wants more people to run for the Board of Aldermen.
Two of his colleagues — Aldermen Christopher Robinson and Sean Sargeant — have declared they will not run again and a third, Alderman David Wallstrom, has said he might not. Earlier this month another board member was on the fence, but Alderman Tom DePoy has since declared his intent to run.
Before DePoy found reason to carry on, though, Notte said he looked with unease at the potential of four vacancies on the board with few newcomers seeking to claim the seats.
“I really think Rutland is best served by having a wide variety of candidates to choose from and it did look like that wasn’t going to be the case,” he said.
Notte sent an email out to a handful of associates not asking them to run, but asking them to think about who they knew who might step up and who would represent “citizens with an interest in continuing to move Rutland forward down the positive path we have taken recently.”
“I believe there is room on the Board of Aldermen for a wide range of philosophies and viewpoints,” he wrote. “I would much rather see the board engage in vigorous debate than quickly issue an unanimous vote ... But I do not want to see the Board of Aldermen shift so far in a single election due to a lack of a balanced field of candidates that we begin to harm Rutland.”
So far, Notte said, his effort appears to be yielding some fruit.
“I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I’ve heard from a couple people they’re considering it and I’ve gotten a couple phone calls from people with questions about the time investment,” he said.
The Empty House
The aforementioned Sargeant emerged from last week’s Charter and Ordinance Committee meeting as the sharpest critic of a proposed ordinance on vacant properties, and he wrote to clarify his positions.
The ordinance requires owners of vacant properties to register them with the city and pay a $500 fee, with a renewal required after six months. Seasonal properties are exempt and owners actively marketing, renovating or demolishing their buildings would be eligible for a $450 refund.
Sargeant argued that the city already has authority to go after owners of run-down properties by fining them for housing code violations and that the ordinance would burden responsible property owners.
“The city’s primary focus should be on blight, not vacancy; the two are not the same,” he writes. “As proposed, this is too broad a tool to achieve the desired result. This ordinance is a blunt object that will affect many properties beyond our blighted buildings target. Finally, I support the right of an owner to hold real property vacant, as long as it meets our existing Housing Standards ordinance.”
A compromise could be in the works. Mayor Christopher Louras said Thursday that arguments that conscientious property owners should simply have the fee waived, rather than being required to pay $500 up front and then applying for a $450 refund, were well-taken and that the draft was being modified to accommodate that position.
Monday is Martin Luther King Day, but City Hall is open anyway. The Aldermen don’t meet, but there will be a meeting at 6 p.m. at the Godnick Adult Center on the desire of residents of North Street Extension and Hillside Road to have the city curb through traffic in their neighborhood.
The Board of Aldermen has its regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, in deference to the holiday. The agenda includes an update on the five-year bridge plan, the sale of the information booth in Main Street Park, allowing tax stabilization on residential properties and a noise complaint at a city bar.
Wednesday, the General Committee meets at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the equipment fund.
Thursday, the Finance Committee meets to review the city’s Common Level of Appraisal and Coefficient of Dispersion.