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Council Committee

Focus: Town-Gown

Chairman John Rafter Aims To Focus
On Neighborhood Noise, Apartments

By JENNIFER HILL • Special to

Council member
John Rafter

ONEONTA – Town-gown relations – noise and mischief in neighborhoods, and the large number of shortterm rentals in the city – are on Common Council member John Rafter’s agenda this year.

And it’s now on the agenda of the council’s Legislative Committee, whcih he chairs, and which met last night for the first time in 2019.

Rafter told committee members – Council members Dave Rissberger, Michelle Osterhoudt and Joe Ficano – they need to assess whether the “Social Host” law, passed last March, is working; and whether a register of rentals might help City Hall identify problem properties.

“How effective are our ordinances (as) tools our police and code office can use in stemming noises and other kinds of problems,” he asked his colleagues.  Do they need to be amended or are new ones needed?

In discussion, it was noted that the Social Host law, which levies a $1,000 fine if minors are found drinking or taking drugs at a party, has only been applies twice, and one of those times it wasn’t pursued.

He said City Attorney David Merzig is exploring using administrative fines instead of criminal fines “because police have to be summoned on a regular basis to quell disturbances.”

Committee member Dave Rissberger said City Manager George Korthauer and the police and fire departments will be submitting a report in 5-6 months on the law’s effectiveness, which should give the committee some answers.

He also suggested expanding the city’s Code Enforcement Office “so we have someone here on the weekends, because so many of the calls I get are on the weekends.  If police are called to a house and there are issues, the police can immediately call our code enforcer who’s on duty and they can look for violations.”

Not all the problems the city has are from students, he added.

An expanded code office could also help address the complexities of having numerous short-term rental properties in the city.  “The rental properties have expanded significantly over the past 20 to 25 years,” he said, “but the code office hasn’t changed much.”

The idea of a database or online list of rentals, including any violations, the potential of Airbnbs as revenue generators, and whether the short-term rental law needs amending should also be tackled, Rissberger said.

Council Member Joseph Ficano favored new regulations, saying the current ones  make it “real easy to cheat … Those circumventing the law are benefiting.”

Mayor Gary Herzig, who also attended, said the city’s new Comprehensive Master Plan is due to be ready in the next 60 days, and should allow committees and Common Council to develop “goals that are consistent” with the plan.  “It will give us broad community goals that the Council can approve and then dig into,” he said.

“The relationship between the college students and the community is addressed in the Comprehensive Plan and is always an important issue,” Herzig said.  “It’s a big part of who we are, our quality of life, our future, our ability to progress – it’s all tied to our relationship with the college students.”


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