Niagara Gazette

February 25, 2013

HIGGS: Community questions and answers

By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — This will be the last column on the annual Block Club Council Retreat. These past weeks are an example of the education we receive from our elected and appointed public officials who feel it is worth their time and effort to attend our event each year to update our block club members and other interested citizens.

Questions and answers follow:

“Has the state ever considered a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule?”

District Attorney Michael Violante responded “There is one — if you are a third-time felon, it is appropriate for the DA to request a hearing and sentence as persistence felon.”

“Tremendous number of sex offenders in 14303, why? During the past six months, 15 new sex offenders in area.”

Many jumped in to comment on this issue. Mayor Paul Dyster stated on the sad story that our community generates sex offenders. They have to live some place, unless they are incarcerated. He noted as mayor he cannot influence but those that write laws can.

Code Enforcement Director Dennis Virtuoso added one of the city ordinances states they cannot live within 1,500 feet of places where children congregate; the state law is 1,000 feet. Niagara County Legislature recently passed resolution for state to change to correspond to the city’s 1,500 feet requirement. The city recently did a comprehensive study and found that there are really very few areas sex offenders can live without violating these boundaries. The responsibility lies with Parole and Social Services to keep them within the required number of feet which is difficult in Niagara Falls, a city of parks, playgrounds, day care centers, Sunday schools etc. Violante stated he would be happy to co-author a letter to Director of Parole in Albany to determine why we are getting people that never lived here. Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto is also working on the issue.

The Niagara Falls high burglary rate was questioned.

Federal prosecutor James Kennedy stated stolen goods appear on eBay and Violante agreed many cases are difficult to arrest and prove. People are getting smarter. Without tips from citizens they are hard to prove and prosecute.

“What is the street drug called Molly?”

Kennedy stated it is a nasty drug — a form of methamphetamine — a synthetic drug, spices, bath salts, all really nasty stuff. Violante chimed in that possession for sale is only a violation and this has to change. Now the maximum penalty is 15 days in jail.

“A senior received a call from someone who was trying to get their credit card number. Who do we report these scams to?”

Kennedy said call the FBI at 856-7800 and ask for duty agent. My comment: Niagara County Sheriff’s Office also has an FBI agent assigned to their office who can assist. He recently attended one of our individual block club meetings and offered assistance. He can be reached at 438-3457.

“When a property owner is brought into housing court but doesn’t have financial means to address violations, what is in place?”

Virtuoso said his department tries to steer them in the right direction. Community Development, Center City, Highland Community Revitalization and NiaCap. His department has no role in direct financing of needed repairs. Seth Piccirillo, director of Community Development, stated his department has Occupancy Rehab programs. But code enforcement requirements need to be met for eligibility. A Catch 22 situation.

“How can we change the InRem auction to make a homestead act instead?

We need more homeowners to reduce transparency of renters,” Picirrillo stated, “let’s get these homes in the hands of people with an agreement. Try to market availability of homes that we (the city) owns. If you are willing to rehab, CD will set up an agreement with you.” Call 286-8801 for more information.

Members of Landlord Association in audience brought into question the amount of money spent on social services that import the disadvantaged here to take advantage of free services.

“Instead of being in business of poverty, Niagara Falls needs to strive for prosperity.” They questioned the failure of the use of rent assistance through the Department of Social Services voucher system. Some audience members stated if rent is vouchered, landlord should be required to keep the property up to standards.

I hope you agree that these annual meetings of the minds are important and appreciate that we have shared what we learned with you.

Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.