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Archive for April 12th, 2009

… you don’t think we’ve been resting on our laurels, I think its about time to update you on our latest pursuits in City Hall. It’s as helpful to me to witness this in writing as it is to you, as I also benefit from seeing where we’ve been and where we’re going.

I will be referring to my notebooks in order to run through the past four months. I am an avid note taker, as there are so many projects and meetings that layer one upon another. I cling to this practice like a cast-away to a wooden raft. The two notebooks I have here tonight take me back to the beginning of December, 2008. Therefore, my notes run more or less chronologically, though most of these tasks are still “works in progress” and thread through my notebooks in several sections.

– Bob Fetterly approached me to suggest that he would be interested in writing a white paper focusing on the Transportation Department and a suggested mechanic. What ensued was a comprehensive investigation of staffing, equipment, the facility and governmental mandates. Mr. Fetterly’s report resulted in the Common Council agreeing to staff a mechanic position in transportation and allowed for an application to DOT for an $800K stimulus grant. Mr. Fetterly set the terms for his services: $1 plus “expenses.” Thank you so much, Bob.

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Demolition plans were finalized in meetings between City Engineer Richard Phillips, Montgomery County Director of Public Works Paul Claybourn, Amsterdam Fire Chief Rich Liberti, Alderwoman Kim Brumley, Alderman Dan Roth, Plumbing Inspector Erwin Harnish and County Supervisor Barbara Johnson. Time lines, responsibilities, and expectations were hammered out, asbestos surveys completed, equipment purchased, licenses procured and a completed work plan was submitted to Department of Labor. CT Male and MOSA partnered with us as well. Because of the extraordinary push over the past year by these key players, seven derelict structures have come down and plans are being made for the lots that have been left vacant. Over 40 structures will be tackled next winter.

Whoa. I’m on page three of this first notebook. I need to find a more abbreviated way to post. I’m moving to salient points. Better for all of us.

– We’ve held several City/GASD Commission meetings to brainstorm solutions to regional scores/standing.
– We’ve had monthly meetings with Owen Goldfarb of the Local Government Assistance Project funded through the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC). Our goal is to establish responsible oversight of finances, timely and accurate accounting, budget analysis and strategic financial planning for the future.
– Our new Assessor has begun the arduous task of rehabbing a department that has long been in need of organization and updating. This year’s role was filed on time, years of records have been straightened out, and analysis has begun for future action.
– Letter’s have been written to the OSC, the Office of General Services (OGS), the Governor, Senator and Assemblyman to help Mohawk Lifts with state contracts. We will continue to doggedly support this City business in any way necessary.
– Exploratory work was begun to increase water flow to Edson Park. FGI is planning a $3M expansion there.
– The zoning ordinances/map rehab RFP was drawn up and sent out. We have seven replies in hand to be reviewed by the Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, and the Common Council.
Technological advances for City Hall are undergoing analysis, including the operating system for the Comptroller’s office, hardware and software upgrades, server capacity, security, internet/intranet connectivity and a new telephone system. Meetings have been held with the County as to how we may coordinate efforts and a schedule of work hammered out to address needs on this end. Service proposals have been sought from outside firms as well.
– The Property Disposition Committee has had several meetings to fine tune strategy. A scenario for demolished properties has been developed.
– Several labor contract negotiations have been ongoing. Labor management discussions are perennial.

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– Grants from DOT and the DORM Authority for the second phase of Riverlink Park are being persistently tracked. The Pedestrian Bridge contracts are being finalized at the state level.
– There has been discussion between AIDA, EDZ and the City regarding the formation of a Local Development Corporation (LDC) to facilitate economic development. We have an ongoing need to identify potential businesses/developers, available City property, zoning and environmental issues, and to get word out to the business community.
Stimulus projects have been identified and proposals sent to State officials.
Water distribution expectations and agreements have been negotiated with the Towns of Florida and Amsterdam.
– The new sales tax distribution agreement (drafted in October) was presented again to City Supervisors to submit to the County. Subsequently, several meetings have been held with City Supervisors to ensure unified support of our proposal.
– We’ve been working with Port City Preservation (PCP) to push forward the redevelopment of the Esquire Building at the Mohasco site. Several meetings have been held with Noteworthy to address any concerns the company may have with the proposed mixed-use rehabilitation of the neighboring building.

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– Physical improvements have been, and will be, ongoing at City Hall. A plan for regular maintenance, as well as a larger capital improvement plan for appropriate historic preservation, will be budgeted for.
– New members have been assigned to the Board of Assessment Review.
– The local registry legislation for property owned by out-of-town landlords has been implemented.
– A meeting was held in January with AIDA to decide organizational goals, mission, job descriptions and projects.
Marketing materials are in the final stages of development. Information has been gathered for the website, the home page has been built out, and the the back pages are in development. Interviews, copy writing, design, and photography are all underway for both the website and printed materials.
Software had been purchased to facilitate greater ease of response by the Fire Department in emergencies and to better code enforcement efforts. The system is expected to be fully operational by the end of the summer.
– Murray Gould of PCP made a public presentation to interested parties on the relationship between historic preservation and economic development. The prominent themes: follow the successful lead of other communities; change takes risk and commitment; look for solutions and minimize roadblocks.
Centro Civico has acquired a significant amount of money to construct a park on the East End and would like to partner with the City to bring this project to fruition.
– The City will partner with AHA, URA and Rivercrest Development to rehab architecturally significant buildings that had been slated for demolition in targeted neighborhoods. This will allow the City to retain taxable structures rather than maintain vacant lots.

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– The Downtown Development Committee has been meeting regularly and two community forums were held to ascertain the needs of property owners, to inform them of grant opportunities and to devise a unified vision for the area. The City has received a $500K Small Cities grant for enhancements to this area and will go for round three of the Restore NY grant to redevelop the Keybank Building with John Tesiero.
– A small committee has been coordinating the “Windows on Main” project. They are working with PTA’s and art teachers to dress participating storefronts and are planning a kick-off event in early May.
– An undisclosed construction firm of global proportion and a mammoth engineering firm, also a world-wide entity, paid us visits in relation to opportunities the AMD project in Luther Forest may bring us. Both recognize our attractive location, copious water sources, and affordable real estate. The billion dollar AMD project is expected to generate 4,500 white collar jobs regionally.
– The Via Ponte Committee has been working with Saratoga Associates to finish up South Side Brownfield Opportunity Activities (BOA). The City has also been awarded a North Shore BOA that will target the Chuctanunda Creek to Mohasco. This work will help secure funding for the relocation of the train station, marketing analysis, beautification and larger capital projects.
– I’ve been to regional meetings and training sessions hosted by the Center for Economic Growth, the NY Council of Mayors, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Preservation League, and have attended stimulus informational meetings hosted by Senator Chuck Schumer and the Governor.
– The Windswept Drive area will benefit in the way of increased pressure to residences and flow for fire hydrants when water transmission improvements are made to extend water service to Beechnut.
– The City recently completed a policy and procedure review by the OSC and is now going through a Budget Review and Audit. They will review internal controls and make recommendations to improve cash management and cost savings. Contemporaneously, the City is going through it’s annual audit as well.
– Shuttleworth Park, as well as other parks, have been assessed for safety improvements that will be put in place before the summer season begins.
Traffic patterns around the City have been analyzed by DOT and recommendations will be made for better flow downtown. An public forum will be held on May 7th at Lynch Middle School to garner input from residents.

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– We’ve been working with the Amsterdam Beautification Corps (ABC) to get ready for this summer season. Flowers have been ordered, a memorial urn will be placed at the intersection of Church and Main Street, and banners featuring our new logo will be ordered. Should be a stellar show this year.
– Upon my recommendation, Golf Course operations will be assessed by graduate students from Union College and a strategic business plan developed.
Riverlink Park Cafe will need restoration work before summer to allow for a new concessionaire to start at the building. Some carpentry and an intensive cleaning are in order. This year, a park attendant will be on site to ensure that the bathrooms, elevator, and public places are clean and that the gardens are watered and cared for. Look forward to new management, a great new menu, Canalfest and concerts on the River.
– Planned improvements to the Water Filtration and Wastewater Treatment Facilities are underway. All work will be completed by the time the new Beechnut facility goes online.
– Initial mapping and surveying of RT 5 West has been reviewed by the City. Engineering designs will be completed by fall of 2009 and implementation of roadwork will start in 2010. Subsurface utility improvements will be made in tandem with the resurfacing project.
– Key staff met to discuss borrowing practices for capital projects. Purchasing procedures were reviewed and recommendations have been made to standardize the bonding process (record keeping, administration, tracking). Cost savings may be realized by bonding for several purchases in a larger bond, rather than issuing individual bonds for each purchase. We will address this concept in this year’s budgeting sessions.
– Downtown Main Street has been photographed and renderings will be produced to illustrate “before” and “after” concepts in marketing materials.
Bridge Street plans were reviewed with staff from DOT, Saratoga Associates and our Engineering Department. These plans have been been scrutinized by DOT for months and new recommendations have been made. We will continue to work closely with all parties to ensure that the project breaks ground later this year.
– Plans are being drawn up to replace the aging Pool House at Veteran’s Field.
Staffing shortages and restructuring in several departments within City Hall are being considered. This will be addressed in the budgeting process.
– The City is involved in the formation of a Habitat for Humanity in Montgomery County. Currently, a formative committee will look to staff a governing board, develop the organization’s mission, bylaws, budget, operational goals and strategic plan. Volunteers are more than welcome.

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– The Waterfront Commission has revisited its described duties in the Charter and has made recommendations regarding changes. Their chief responsibility will be to ensure that the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan and the City’s Comprehensive plan are followed in any waterfront development projects.
– Our Citywide Volunteer Cleanup on April 25th will kick off a week’s worth of opportunity at the MOSA transfer station, where City residents will be allowed to drop off for FREE from April 27 – May 2. More information will be released as details are finalized.
– Of course, putting the 2009/2010 budget together has taken several months of work. It’s looking good for the coming year, but our long-term goal must be to balance the the needs of our constituents while remaining fiscally responsible.

Any one of the topics above may run between a half of a page to four pages in length in my notebook. I may flesh out a few of them individually in future posts. Collectively, these are the tasks that drive minutes into hours over days in my office, so swiftly that the past fifteen months seem to have evaporated like breath on a warming window.

Meanwhile, every City department continues to address the day-to-day responsibilities under their charge. Streets are cleaned, water breaks are addressed, firemen and EMTs answer the call, police investigate when summoned, water is cleaned and pumped to your homes, waste water is whisked away for treatment, the buses run, the parks are being readied to open, dog and wedding licenses are issued, births and deaths are tracked, and life goes on. It is this quiet, perpetual motion of City work that is surprisingly gratifying and far too frequently unappreciated.

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