PORT JEFFERSON — Without doubt the most talked about subjects at the Port Jefferson Village Council meeting on Monday was what to do about overdue sewage bills, enforcing village ordinances concerning junk and trash removal, and an on-going issue with illegal housing that is now in the hands of the Shelby County Health Department.
Mayor Steve Butterfield pressed council to take action on installing shut-off valves on residential sewer lines in the village as a way to motivate residents with overdue bills to settle their accounts. It was agreed that Installing shut-offs was the only way to get people’s attention at prior meetings but no steps were taken to initiate the process.
“I want to know what council is going to do about this problem,” Butterfield said. “In the past you all agreed something had to be done and shutting off the services was the best way to go but nothing happened and the bills continue to pile up for the village. It’s not fair to those who pay their bills in a timely manner and every month the village spends about $1,500 to cover the bills for another month, so far we’re at little over $8000 for the first six months of this year. We have 196 ‘equivalent users’ hooked up and most pay on time, but there are about 27 who are habitually late or way overdue; some owe thousands of dollars.”
Councilman Tim Smith moved council purchase some valves and start the installations, the motion received a second and was unanimously approved. It was determined the new shut-offs will be installed as soon as possible.
Butterfield expressed his regret for having to move in that direction but noted something must be done.
“It’s a shame it has to come down to this but unfortunately we have no other choice if we want to keep the village’s financial health intact,” said Butterfield.
Butterfield noted he had been approached or called by several residents who asked if the village was ever going to get rid of the numerous junk cars and other trash that still remained all over town.
“This is another thing that has gone on long enough, we’ve talked about it for almost two years now and though some progress was made we seem to have come to a stand-still. Cold weather is just around the corner and we will get this stuff cleaned up even if the village has to do it. If that’s the case those not in compliance will be responsible for paying the bills to get the job done. We also have trash containers setting out on the streets all week, I want to remind all residents that other than pick-up day, garbage and trash containers are to be stored out of sight indoors or behind the house or garage,” he said.
Butterfield asked Police Officer Austin Knight where the department stood on enforcing the ordinances and how much progress was made on junk cars and other unsightly trash. Knight noted they were “working in sections and making some headway” and that the department was more determined than ever to get the village cleaned up.
“We are hand-delivering notices to everyone and all found in non-compliance will end up in Shelby county Municipal Court; one way or another we will get this town cleaned up,” Knight said.
Butterfield read a letter from a woman who owns a property in the village that had amassed a large bill and asked if council would consider accepting the property as payment for $5,620 in overdue sewer bills and $4,951 back taxes. Smith noted it would cost several thousand dollars to clean up the property that has an old house trailer on it and coupled with paying the overdue sewage was more than the property was worth. Butterfield also cautioned council on accepting the offer as the new owner of the property would also be liable for paying the overdue real estate taxes; council voted against accepting the offer.
Butterfield reported he had contacted the Shelby County Health Department about an ongoing issue with someone living in a camper parked behind the residence at 326 W. Main.
“There is definitely someone living in that old camper and the property is zoned as a single family dwelling. That coupled with the fact there is no water, electric or sewage hookup makes for a no-win situation and the health department has indicated they will take the appropriate measures to correct the situation. Ultimately the responsibility falls back on the land owner, they are the ones that will be held responsible regardless of the circumstances,” Butterfield said.
In other business Butterfield presented the mayor’s report and council heard the reading of the financial report by Fiscal Officer Judy Fair. After her report Councilman Bob Bollinger requested Fair provide an updated financial report before each meeting with up to date information so as to make it possible to make sound decisions based on the information in the report.
“We can’t make a decision on paying bills or taking on new projects if we have no idea how much money we have to work with,” Bollinger said.
Fair said she brought the information with her every month but from now on each council member would receive an updated report before each meeting.
Andy Shuman with Choice One Engineering was on hand to get a signature for the grant applications for the South Elm Street reconstruction and renovating the Village Community Center. Both project will be addressed next year if all goes well and the grant requests are approved.
In his police report, Knight noted two new deputies are currently in training and will be ready for duty in about two months. In the meantime Councilwoman Krystal Cox requested the police assign late-night/early morning patrols due to a recent rash of vandalism, break-ins, and theft in the village.
“We have had things stolen, gas siphoned from our cars, and instances of suspicious behavior at all hours of the night; something has to be done.” Cox said.
Knight said he and Police Chief Mark Bell are working on a new schedule and will have night patrols on duty soon. Butterfield reminded everyone that should an emergency arise or criminal activity present itself, the residents should call the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office immediately.
Before adjournment Butterfield and committee chairpersons on council shared information on a variety of other ongoing projects in the village and noted that overall things were going well. Council also noted Trick-or-Treat night will take place on Oct. 31 from 6 to 7:30. p.m.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Port Jefferson Council will take place Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. in the Community Center. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend.
The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.