A big job refocused on top priorities

We’re glad the village of Saranac Lake finally hired a code enforcement officer to replace Tom Worthington, who we thought did a pretty good job. We congratulate Mathew W. Steenberge of Malone, who takes over in Saranac Lake, and wish Mr. Worthington well as he fills the same role in his hometown of Jay.

We’re also glad Saranac Lake officials are refocusing the position on its top priorities.

“It’s going to be more focused on apartment and rental (inspections), complaints and issuing building permits,” village Manager John Sweeney said. “I believe there’s 400 and some apartment rentals here. We need to get those done.”

He’s right. Hopefully officials won’t let Mr. Steenberge get bogged down with side duties that have been tacked onto the position in the past.

Code enforcement in this village of 5,400 people is a bigger job than many people realize. The village and town of Harrietstown tried sharing an officer for many years but stopped because so many tasks couldn’t get done. Things work better now that it’s split up, but the workload is still formidable.

In addition to building permits, for which timeliness and follow-up are very important, rental inspections need, at long last, to be taken off the back burner. This village has dozens of apartment houses that are around 100 years old and have been subjected to heavy turnover and hard use. Many are still in good shape, thanks to some decent landlords, but many others are pathetic. This village has a history of neglectful landlords and little village oversight, and as a result, much of the apartment stock has degraded to a sad level. The worst of these apartment houses have become the residences of dealers in such hard drugs as heroin, meth, cocaine and all sorts of pills. This needs to be cleaned up and the offending landlords penalized for the sake of public safety. If not, the consequences include more fires, more drug-dealing dens and more deaths.

It used to be that the village code enforcement officer didn’t have the power to ticket the owner of a property in violation of codes, but now that’s possible. It needs to be done more often. This village has a lot of digging out to do.

Anyone who lives in Saranac Lake knows what the problem buildings are. They know that most of them are owned by a small handful of men who never seem to pay for their neglect, which puts their tenants in danger and makes other villages feel depressed about their hometown. These men have been allowed to drag this village down for too long.

We’re generally not in favor of activist code enforcement, but the village must stop being intimidated by the big, obvious violators and write some stiff tickets for the common good.