FULTON, NY – A group of concerned citizens challenging residents, landlords, and city officials alike to help restore Fulton to its former glory has seemingly doubled in size.
Just over a dozen people showed up to Tuesday’s (August 7) regular meeting of the Fulton Common Council to address concerns from drug use to negligent landlords and homeowners throughout the city.
A small group of women approached the city’s Mayor, Ronald Woodward Sr. and common councilors during a meeting in July, making it known that they were not content with the state of the city regarding appearances of several properties throughout all wards and they were going to be taking charge to bring change.
Tuesday, several more city residents came forward alongside them to address issues of their own for roughly an hour of public comment.
The first complaint centered around drug use throughout the city. A 20-year homeowner of the first ward expressed concern for her and her children’s safety after a police response led to officers drawing weapons aimed toward her house, specifically aimed at a vehicle that had pulled into her driveway.
As her son cried himself to sleep in fear, she contemplated selling her house because similar issues continue to arise in her neighborhood.
Despite the few good neighbors that came to the meeting alongside her in support, she and the other neighbors are aware of which house in their neighborhood is the center of concern, she said.
Believing that they are selling and using drugs at a house in her neighborhood, she urged Mayor Woodward and members of the Common Council to do something.
“I don’t understand how this is being allowed. It’s very disheartening that my children are that upset about the safety of (their) mother,” she said. “We know what houses they are. Shut it down. There’s a lot of good people living in Fulton that are paying taxes, and they’re going to move out. Why can’t we shut this house down?”
Mayor Woodward told residents in the audience of the recent changes the Common Council made to help combat issues such as this, specifically in regard to the house in question.
“We’ve adopted a law. If you have a landlord that owes back taxes, you can pull their rental permits until they’re taxes are paid,” he explained.
The house is question is owned by a landlord that owes $41,000 in taxes, he said, resulting in his rental permits being revoked.
Once tenants are removed from the property, along with any other properties in the city owned by the individual, the property will not be able to be rented until all back tax payments are recovered.
Similarly, the council recently adopted a law directing all landlords residing outside city limits to acquire a property manager within 25 miles of the property. Failure to do so could result in the forfeiture of rental permits as well.
“Other than what we’re doing, what else can we do?” Mayor Woodward questioned. “We can’t kick anyone’s door in because you’re sure they’re doing drugs.”
Instead, he explained, a warrant is necessary to enter the premises. To obtain a warrant, someone has to buy drugs and write a statement before presenting it to a judge for a warrant.
This work is typically completed by the Oswego County Drug Task Force that encompasses Fulton. However, the force is only made up of five people and is spread throughout the entire county, Woodward said.
Despite the resident’s reassurance that local police were courteous and professional in handling the incident, other city residents said reporting to the police is where the effort stops.
A fifth ward resident said she and her husband have issued several complaints to local police complete with information such as license plate numbers, which is “where it ends.”
After believing to have seen a drug deal happen on the street of which she resides, she said a perfectly timed patrol officer entered the area but didn’t take action because there was no crime committed based on what was seen at the time the officer arrived in the area.
“I understand it’s a huge epidemic, I understand the constitution a lot more than most. I understand individual rights, but you guys are not doing enough. Find some resources and make something happen. That’s all that we are asking because we are afraid, afraid for our children’s life,” her husband said.
She pleaded for Fulton PD officers to put more patrol on suspected drug use neighborhoods.
“Put your officers in there. Make it so these people don’t want to go there to use because there’s officers there, it’s watched,” she said.
Woodward explained that the city police department is currently down five officers due to retirement. Though they have five new hires in the police academy, the process before they become active for the department takes at least nine months.
Instead, fifth ward councilor Dennis Merlino suggested neighbors safely use devices to record such exchanges so those in question are aware they’re being watched.
“I’ve done it in Fulton. They stop congregating in that spot, knowing that they’re now on film. It’s worked in a couple locations I’ve gone to in the ward. It’s a suggestion, let them know in no uncertain terms that ‘we are watching you,’” Merlino said.
The residents suggested Merlino help to organize a neighborhood watch program in their ward.
Another viable suggestion came in regards to helping seniors on fixed incomes address codes violations that they may not have the financial means to rectify.
“I wanted to let you know, I’m following up with the principal of the high school and the superintendent of the schools. We are trying to see if we can go through the school to get a volunteer group of young men and women to go through and help mow some of the lawns, cut some of the shrubs, and maybe do some small maintenance around the house,” said a concerned resident that was part of the original group aimed at bringing change.
Other comment included an appeal for new codes and regulations to not be targeted specifically at landlords but also extend to homeowners that are negligent in taking care of their property’s appearance.
Additionally, a third ward resident suggested the city do better due diligence when allowing buyers to purchase homes throughout the city, ensuring that they don’t own homes already in the city that are not up to code.
The group reassured that they will continue to work on their own time to make the city better.
“You’ve got many sets of eyes and ears that are out willing and wanting to make your ward better, make it look great,” she said. “We’re out there working for the city, who you guys represent. I want to make sure you understand, we’re out there doing it for the city, not trying to be jerks and we’re not trying to attack homeowners, but we’re trying to hold everyone to the same level of accountability,” she said.
“I know the issues, I don’t like them. We’ll do whatever we can do,” Mayor Woodward said, noting that he believes 95 percent of these issues stem from absentee landlords which will remain priority focus for city officials.
“Just let us know if we can help any of your citizens because I think we are growing as a group and we want to make the city better. Whether it be getting rid of slumlords, or drug dealers, or pulling grass, whatever it is. Just keep your minds open, and let us know where we can help or find the people to do it,” she said.