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I made a mistake.

Still-NOREVISED:
All, an error in my calculations was brought to my attention. Therefore, I withdraw my objection to the elimination of marketing funds, as this will take the budget over the prescribed tax cap. However, I point out again that this cut would be unnecessary had the council taken the ambulance service in-house. My revised veto is as follows:

OBJECTION TO BUDGET MODIFICATIONS • Resolution #14/15-241
In order to protect the interests of the taxpayers of the City of Amsterdam, I am objecting on this date, June 9th, 2015, to the following modifications to the proposed budget contained in the adoption resolution #14/15-241.

In general, the budget I proposed contained accurate and realistic estimates of revenues and expenses. It is unfortunate that the Common Council has decided to forgo the city ambulance proposal and thereby increase the tax burden on our property owners. In-house ambulance services have been proven beneficial to municipalities across the state in the way of hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue unrelated to property taxes or utility fees.

The modifications made by the Common Council substantially underestimate expenses for the city’s health insurance program and numerous other areas. The problem with doing this is that the “cuts” are not real; the costs that many of these items estimate are not entirely under the control of the city. The net result will be a significant deficit across all operating funds at the end of the fiscal year, while simultaneously damaging the ability of city staff to provide services.

I would object to all of these modifications if I had the votes to support my objections. Instead, I will only object to certain items that will lessen the negative financial impact of this budget in the hope that the Common Council will reconsider its actions. These objections are also constrained by the various tax caps.

OBJECTIONS:
1. Item 37 – Remove an additional $100,000 from the health insurance appropriation.
Removal of this modification will reduce the amount of the year-end deficit that will be caused by the underestimating of this expense. Again, this harkens to my prior veto of Resolution 240 citing the “practice of the County Board of Supervisors that earned negative comments during a recent audit. The OSC noted that the supervisors had adopted budgets that were structurally unsound, “The County’s declining financial condition is the result of poor budgeting and financial management practices, and the board’s failure to develop and use long-term financial plans”.” I reiterate, we should not make the same mistake here.

2. The amendment to increase the transfer from the Water Fund to the General Fund by $40,000 sponsored by Alderman Barone.
Removal of this amendment will prevent the loss of taxing power under the 2% annual tax cap. Retaining flexibility under this cap is important, as it will allow future administrations to more easily comply with the state-mandated cap and secure the associated compliance checks for our residents. It is particularly concerning that this action was taken so swiftly, without proper justification, analysis or thought, after lengthy discussion about the negative impact the loss of taxing power has on our taxpayers. Please refer to the OSC citation in reference to Item 37.

It is my hope that the Council will recognize my restraint in crafting this veto and that they will concede these few points to better serve our taxpayers.

In light of the aforementioned points, I hereby veto this budget resolution.

Mayor Ann M. Thane

once again, no.

OBJECTION TO BUDGET MODIFICATIONS • Resolution #14/15-241

In order to protect the interests of the taxpayers of the City of Amsterdam, I am objecting on this date, June 8th, 2015, to the following modifications to the proposed budget contained in the adoption resolution #14/15-241.

noIn general, the budget I proposed contained accurate and realistic estimates of revenues and expenses. It is unfortunate that the Common Council has decided to forgo the city ambulance proposal and thereby increase the tax burden on our property owners. In-house ambulance services have been proven beneficial to municipalities across the state in the way of hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue unrelated to property taxes or utility fees.

The modifications made by the Common Council substantially underestimate expenses for the city’s health insurance program and numerous other areas. The problem with doing this is that the “cuts” are not real; the costs that many of these items estimate are not entirely under the control of the city. The net result will be a significant deficit across all operating funds at the end of the fiscal year, while simultaneously damaging the ability of city staff to provide services.

I would object to all of these modifications if I had the votes to support my objections. Instead, I will only object to certain items that will lessen the negative financial impact of this budget in the hope that the Common Council will reconsider its actions. These objections are also constrained by the various tax caps.

OBJECTIONS:
1. Item 37 – Remove an additional $100,000 from the health insurance appropriation.
Removal of this modification will reduce the amount of the year-end deficit that will be caused by the underestimating of this expense. Again, this harkens to my prior veto of Resolution 240 citing the “practice of the County Board of Supervisors that earned negative comments during a recent audit. The OSC noted that the supervisors had adopted budgets that were structurally unsound, “The County’s declining financial condition is the result of poor budgeting and financial management practices, and the board’s failure to develop and use long-term financial plans“.” I reiterate, we should not make the same mistake here.

2. The amendment to increase the transfer from the Water Fund to the General Fund by $40,000 sponsored by Alderman Barone.
Removal of this amendment will prevent the loss of taxing power under the 2% annual tax cap. Retaining flexibility under this cap is important, as it will allow future administrations to more easily comply with the state-mandated cap and secure the associated compliance checks for our residents. It is particularly concerning that this action was taken so swiftly, without proper justification, analysis or thought, after lengthy discussion about the negative impact the loss of taxing power has on our taxpayers. Please refer to the OSC citation in reference to Item 37.

3. Item 27 – Reduce Mayor’s Marketing Lines by $30,000.
The funds expended under this line will help promote the soon-to-be completed Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook, update the City’s website, and otherwise improve the image of the City of Amsterdam. It is necessary to adequately market the positive aspects of our community to change undesirable perceptions about our municipality. Ultimately, this will increase outside investment in the City and alleviate many of the stresses cause by the current climate of disinvestment in real property. Failure to fund these efforts is shortsighted and detrimental to the future of the City.

It is my hope that the Council will recognize my restraint in crafting this veto and that they will concede these few points to better serve our taxpayers.

In light of the aforementioned points, I hereby veto this budget resolution.

Mayor Ann M. Thane

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VETO STATEMENT • Resolution #14/15-239
I am vetoing this resolution on this date, June 5th, 2015.

I take issue with this resolution for several reasons:

1. Just as was the case with Resolution #14/15-226 (consent), this current resolution was introduced without prior public discussion by the Council in any committee.

2. Just as was the case with Resolution #14/15-226 (consent), this current resolution ignores the recommendations of the Golf Commission, a body that the Council had supposedly given complete control of course management.

3. Just as was the case with Resolution #14/15-226 (consent), this Council has not done any analysis as to what impact the action will have on the Golf Course Budget or City Operational Budget nor have they suggested how this anticipated revenue might be recouped in other ways.

4. Just as was the case with Resolution #14/15-226 (consent) and given that the Golf Course Budget must be made whole by tapping the General fund, this action will further negatively impact our city and its taxpayers.

In light of the aforementioned points, I hereby veto this resolution.

VETO STATEMENT • Resolution #14/15-240
I am vetoing this resolution on this date, June 5th, 2015.

1. The resolution cites “a difficult financial outlook” and that the “taxpayers are continually asked to bear the burden for balancing the city budget.” These conditions exist in every municipality and do not form the basis to ask the state to make an exception to the law that prohibits using sewer fund revenue for general fund purposes. The reality is that the City of Amsterdam operates at 39% of its constitutionally imposed taxing limit and that this budget and the last budget were adopted with property tax decreases.

2. Though the city’s financial records have been inaccurate, the identified accounting problems are being straightened out and the city does not appear to have a poor financial outlook.

3. This Council was presented a budget that was balanced through the inclusion of a new revenue source (city-run ambulance service). This proposal would have removed tax burden from our taxpayers. The Council has chosen to ignore this option.

4. The Council has proposed a shift of money from the Sewer Fund without specifying the amount needed or why it is necessary, given that they have adopted a proposed budget without this transfer.

5. This proposed transfer appears to be intended as a short-term solution to funding recurring costs. This was a practice of the County Board of Supervisors that earned negative comments in its 2013 audit. The OSC noted that the supervisors had adopted budgets that were structurally unsound, “The County’s declining financial condition is the result of poor budgeting and financial management practices, and the board’s failure to develop and use long-term financial plans”. We should not make the same mistakes here.

6. I have spoken with our financial advisors and have been informed that transferring fund balance from the Sewer Fund to support the General Fund may have a detrimental impact on the city’s credit rating, putting us at risk for a rating downgrade, which would then needlessly increase the cost of borrowing in the future.

7. There are critical repairs that must be made to the Waste Water System (treatment plant, pump stations, and distribution lines) that may require drawing from our established reserves. Further, it would be wise to accumulate Sewer Fund balance to defray future capital costs while there are significant high volume users on the system.

8. The Common Council sought state legislative action without discussing this with my office or staff. To approach the State without the counsel of staff or the Mayor is inappropriate. Clearly, it demonstrates an unwillingness to work collaboratively with this administration.

In light of the aforementioned points, I hereby veto this resolution.

MEMORIAL DAY 2015
May 25, 2015

Hello all and thank you for being here on a day that is not only a holiday but a holy day to those of us that are touched by the deep, searing meaning of this ceremony.

There are few occasions that I feel more honored to speak about as Mayor. I am called upon once a year to voice the anguish and gratitude our city feels, for so many of our families have experienced loss that is inexplicably sad.

Walls of granite across the land are etched with the names of young men and women that have given their lives – their promise and their futures – to our community and nation. The inscriptions are distantly cold, and can never speak to the marvelous lives that once coursed with flushed faces, laughter and intention.

The thought of this enormous loss is so daunting.

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The concrete finality of such loss breaks my heart and silences my muse. Waves of conflicts have washed over our nation, each surge pulling away those we love like glittering specks of sand tossed into the mirth of motion and then gone to a vast emptiness.

This reality overwhelms me every year. I think of mothers and fathers fearfully sending these children off to the military with pride and a sense of powerlessness that must be so difficult, but is nothing compared to the few that receive a knock on the door revealing a crisp, uniformed officer delivering news that ends all hope.

I die a little bit knowing each name on a memorial comes with a similar pronouncement and aftermath.

So, every year, I struggle for words. I stew for days with thoughts of patriotism, service, community and the terror that is bound up in the essence of this day. I think of our blessed way of life in the United States of America – of our abundance, joy and freedom and feel quite lost. I worry that I cannot adequately express our communal feelings…
So, I will start with our proud soldiers. It is because of our military that we are afforded peace. We are afforded personal freedoms and ease that allows us to actually ignore the privileges that others are fighting and dying for around the globe. We have access to food, healthcare and education. We can vote, or not. We can eat well, or not. We can thrive, or not. We can worship God or the devil or a light bulb, or not. We can even work or not, though I truly believe most people would prefer to earn a living than accept a handout. Americans are inherently noble people.

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I mulled this all over while at a bonfire the night before last. My friends and family gathered in a circle as warm as the pyre that drew us to its heat. A cooler of cold beer opened and closed while young children ran outside the ring of chairs. Young adults, so recently boys and girls, laughed lightly and courted in the flickering shadows of the periphery. We seated parents looked on with amusement and nostalgia, and then would gaze into the mysterious living thing that fire is.

We watched as logs were tossed into the coals and a burst of embers would explode into the night to drift upward and disappear into the black. Our heads tilted back on our chairs as we fixed our eyes on the speckled canopy of darkness.

I thought each hot, orange ember must certainly take its place amongst its far sisters, the stars, transported from this temporal reality to the sparkling realm of timeless light. I like to think that these tiny fragments that grace the sky are the ever-present evidence of the beauty of souls that are lost to us. Souls dance their way to the stars like embers and in the 300 years that we have been a sovereign nation, 1.1 million soldiers have filled the night sky.

For me, a woman of a certain age and temperament that does NOT believe in the devil or the omnipotent power of a light bulb, God has given us these stars as a sign that there is order, permanence and meaning in our lives that surpasses the inexplicable tragedies of this existence.

And I think it must be this faith that sustains us through violence, poverty and war. It must be this faith that gives young men courage to break away from the comforts of home. It must be faith that allows a mother a final kiss before deployment and it MUST be faith that gives a husband, wife or child the strength to bear a triangular flag beside a casket, the white stars on a field of blue held as closely as breath and tears.

These were my fireside thoughts the other night. I expressed them tearfully to my friend, John. We both stared in silence at the flames and then he turned to me and said, “Ann, it’s all true. This is so horribly sad. But there is this too: each soldier had given meaning to his or her life. They have served our country with dignity. They tried to carry democracy to a world that thirsts for our way of life. They went with selfless obedience to keep our county safe and free. The meaning of their lives is as vast and great as the sky above us.”

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We both went silent again. I think we both were crying. John is so right.

Please remember the gift of each one of those stars when you pledge allegiance to our flag and when staring quietly up at a haunted, star-filled sky. That magnificent sky is filled with love.

Thank you to the fine veterans that have served and to those that are still active today.

Thank you again to the Veteran’s Commission for organizing this event again, as you do every year. Amsterdam is grateful for your continuous advocacy on behalf of those that have served our country so well. And lastly, thank you to God, for planting us all in the soil of this great nation where such freedom and sacrifice may be reverently celebrated.

NYCOM ROAR

March Madness has more meanings than one, especially for our folk, mayors and municipal leaders that have gone through one of the most brutal winters in a decade or more. Our streets are heaving. Water and sewer lines are snapping with regularity. Abandoned properties have collapsed with the weight of snow and time. Our plowing, salt and overtime lines are long depleted. Let’s face it; we’ve never seen so many potholes. This past season has been disastrous for the City of Amsterdam and others like it across the state. March was mad all right. Warmer weather can’t come soon enough.
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For my small city, March also marks the start of the budget process. Our Controller has assembled an un-doctored draft document of departmental requests, debt calculations and costs that we have no control over. It exceeds our cap by $1.5M. This includes the cost of pensions that went up this year by $400,000 and a bump in our health insurance bill of $900,000.

I take my place at the conference table with my most trusted staff and the balancing act begins. We identify wiggle room in some of the revenue estimates and begin going through the lines of each department, as though the myth that operating expenses are driving these astronomical increases is a reality. We all know they are not. We cannot cut pencils to get to a workable number.

I am very fortunate to have an extraordinarily talented team. We assesses the intricacies of the document with finesse and creativity. We play with the sales tax figures and increase the transfer from water to the general fund. We discover a discrepancy in the health insurance entry and remediate. We review the impact of PILOT payments and debt retirement. We propose new scenarios to produce much-needed revenues, such as providing garbage and recycling services to surrounding villages.

Over my tenure, we’ve adjusted our water and sewer rates to favor inside users. We’ve renegotiated the distribution of our sales tax allocations from the county and have arranged to receive a share of those allocations from surrounding towns by coupling them with the sale of water. We’ve restructured labor contracts and health insurance deals. We’ve taken recycling in-house, sell effluent from our wastewater plant to Madison County for a better rate, brokered an new solar energy contract, and get a cut of the action from our local “volunteer” ambulance provider, all to benefit our taxpayers.

Every year for the eight years of my term, we’ve worked to be more resourceful, more efficient, more transparent and less costly. In great measure, we’ve succeeded but as time ensues, there are less and less areas of benefit to visit. Our departments barely function with skeletal crews and aging equipment while costs soar to all-time highs. Our constituents demand more in the way of services and response, seemingly unaware of the tight constraints of our budget.

Even more worrisome, the state is deaf to our needs. The entire local juggling act is on the verge of collapse, yet every season brings a parade of sketchy programs that have us bounding over new hurdles and competing for space at the trough. This tact is neither innovative nor effective and we deserve better. We deserve MORE.

Still… March is not all madness. It’s also a time of new beginnings.

It’s time for the state to put down the whip and to pick up the olive branch. We, the members of NYCOM, come with outstretched hands bearing gifts. We bring experience, strength, ingenuity and most importantly, solutions. We are more than willing to work with the state toward our common goals.

You, dear reader, play an integral role in garnering the attention of our state representatives. Just as this month came in like a lion and looks likely to go out the same, we should lead our Pride. Use your voices to bring awareness to the plight of local municipalities. Use your contacts in the Senate, Assembly, state agencies and the media to send a message to Albany that ROARS.

After all, no one should ever ignore a hungry lion.

Mayor Ann M. Thane
NYCOM President
for the NYCOM Municipal Bulletin, 2015 Spring Edition

I was recently fortunate enough to greet NYCOM members, state representatives and staff at our Legislative Priorities Meeting in Albany. It’s always a thrill for me to be with my compatriots. I am inspired by their resilience, fortified by their ingenuity, and buttressed by our combined numbers. We represent of 12 million souls. We are STRONG.
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This is important because we, at the local government level, are under siege.

Local governments are being blamed for the skyrocketing tax burden in NYS. This leaves most of us incredulous. We skimp, we save, we slash and we’ve shared for decades to bring our budgets in at the bare minimum and yet, the finger of adversity points at us, the leaders at the local level, and demands that we do more, that we some how wring more out of our already depleted departments and smile as we do so. March in step! Tow the line! Chant the rhetoric that plays so easily to the masses.

Well, that’s not our job.

Our job, as mayors and elected officials, is to provide services and opportunities to our residents as effectively and mindfully as we can. We may have been elected into the political sphere but our jobs are grounded in the daily operations of our municipalities. We are intimately familiar with each potholed street, water main break, sewage overflow, rusty swing set, graffitied wall, abandoned home, lumbering shell of factory, and neighborhood of need. Our everyday existence is one of problem solving, hand holding and sometimes even baby sitting. And we do this all at very little cost.

So, we feel a real sting when these accusations are made. We are proud of our prudent spending and constant self-assessments. That “shared service” is being presented to us as a “new” concept is ludicrous. We invented it.

We must counter the narrative that local governments are spendthrifts with the truth.

The facts show that local governments are the most effective and responsive governments in the world. In NYS, most manage to stay within the recently levied tax cap/freeze and still provide much needed services to our constituents. Unfortunately, this structure is not sustainable. We cannot freeze revenues when our costs go up, sometimes by double-digit percentages.

The inherent financial dysfunction in this state cannot be addressed by squeezing the life out the hearts of cities, town, and villages. We cannot cut our way to prosperity.

Unless we cut our costs.

This is where we must speak with one voice, the voice of 12 million of the 19 million voices in NYS. We have “needs”, not “wants.”

We NEED the quick response of our state representatives to provide the tangible mandate relief promised to us. NYCOM has presented real analysis and workable relief solutions for years, shedding light on answers that skirt controversy while being thoughtful and innovative.

As the most neglected entities in state budgets, local governments NEED meaningful investment in municipal infrastructure so that our communities can sustain safe and heathy environments and support future growth. We NEED a long-awaited increase to our AIM and CHIPS allocations.

We have behaved so well for years, waiting with our empty bowls, but it is time to insistently and in unison voice our needs for “more, sir.”

Finally, this is the message that the state needs to hear: don’t make us the enemy. Be our heroes! Working collaboratively should be a readily attainable goal for all of us, not just for those of us with local zip codes. We must set aside political alliances and work together across the state to overcome the adversity we face. We must work together with urgency and creativity so that local communities thrive.

Ultimately, local governments are not the problem, we are the solution. Rebirth of this state will happen along our beautiful main streets and waterfronts, in our schools and in our historic neighborhoods.

I am certain that the future of this state is one that will be prosperous. The question is, how long will it take? I believe, like the Governor, that it can be sooner than later if we ALL pull together in one direction.

dear rick morrison

Dear Rick:

It seems to me that you asked Mr. Villa and me to list our priorities, not to debate.

My priorities are as follows:

1. Financial stability/accountability, 2. Economic Development, and 3. Quality of Life.

Much of the success of this administration falls under these broad themes and our work in the coming years will continue along these lines. The following list is not all-inclusive but I hope the readers get a sense of the scope of work I propose.

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FINANCIAL STABILITY
and ACCOUNTABILITY:

• Craft a fiscally conservative budget that sustains operations and invests in improved performance. Make sure every dollar spent is necessary and effectively allocated.
• Continue the implementation of the 2014 Corrective Action Plan scripted by the Controller, Corporation Counsel, the former Council and I. Ensure that resources are allocated to the Department of Finance to adequately track, reconcile and report all financial transactions.
• Pursue grants to augment the $27M in funding for capital improvements, equipment and transformative projects that we have received over the past seven years.
• Share services creatively: I offered a list of 34 initiatives to the County that can benefit us by cutting costs, increasing efficiencies and, sometimes, produce much-needed revenue.
• Explore new services that will generate revenue to offset property taxes.

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ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:
• Expand water distribution to surrounding municipalities.
• Expand the Edson Street Industrial Park.
• Continue the redevelopment of our waterfront and downtown areas. Relocate trains station to urban core: create multi-modal transportation hub with commercial and banquet space.
• Repurpose industrial sites into multi-use commercial spaces, low tech incubators, or residential units.
• Continue to nurture partnerships with economic development entities (MCBDC, AIDA, CEDD, URA, CEG), our regional development partners on the MVREDC (I serve on the executive committee), state agencies and surrounding municipalities (our relationship with Schenectady is flourishing.)
• Capitalize on our location along the Thruway, Rail and River. The year 2017 will mark the 200th Anniversary of the Erie Canalway which will be an ideal time to showcase the new Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook.
• Build the Recreation Center to attract visitors from across the Northeast.
• Revamp our promotional materials and website to publicize opportunities in our community.

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QUALITY OF LIFE:
• Continue strategic infrastructure improvements (roads, water/sewer/storm distribution systems). Allocate necessary resources to our newly created Landbank.
• Fight blight through code enforcement, demolition, and targeted neighborhood revitalization strategies. Share code enforcement information and best practices with surrounding municipalities via the new software module we are creating with CTG and neighboring cities.
• Grow citizen engagement programs, e.g. neighborhood watch/beautification efforts, community gardens, citywide clean ups, etc.
• Support public safety departments adequately.
• Continue to offer recreational opportunities to youth and families at the Bacon Recreation Center and Creative Connections Arts Center, e.g. summer camps, free swimming lessons and transportation to city pool, after-school tutoring, sports tournaments, 4H club memberships, public arts projects, etc.
• Grow citywide celebratory events such as Spring Fling, National Night Out and Homecoming.
• Provide continued support for the downtown merchants, Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation, Library, Inman Center and the new Farmers’ Market.
• Continue to foster partnerships with the GASD, FMCC, SMH, W1shfu1Th1nk1ng, Centro Civico, churches and other not-for-profits to nurture body, mind and spirit.
• Continue to improve our municipal golf course, parks, playgrounds and monuments.
• Continue to promote historic preservation of our heritage properties.
• Re-engage community in master planning.

Again, there’s much more to this than I have listed here, but carving out a vibrant future for our city demands great thought, budgeting, planning and many, many hands.

One would think that, given the complexity of this job and extreme needs of this city, any candidate would have given considerable thought to priorities before announcing a run for office.

It’s been four and a half months since Mr. Villa announced. He hasn’t come up with any priorities in all of this time? THAT fact speaks for itself.

My motto:
“Be content to act, and leave the talking to others.”
~ Baltasar Gracián, translated from Spanish

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