Archive for March, 2010

Days slip by in a flurry of activity that commands all of my attention. The City of Amsterdam is faced with incredibly complex problems that have been decades in the making. Population has declined along with businesses and industry, state and federal revenues have dried up, equipment and projects increase in cost, and few have planned far enough ahead to manage during these tough times.

We make due, or don’t, with less. Everything is a priority.

Meanwhile, our staff fights to keep this tiny municipality afloat. They do the work of heroes. They fight to maintain the failing water and sewer lines, roads and bridges, they keep our tax dollars accounted for, they keep tabs on the value and condition of 8,000 properties and attempt to maintain those that have fallen into decay. They are on call 24-7 to fight fire, crime and eliminate safety hazards. They haul away our refuse and waste and they supply us with fresh water in the morning when we wake up. They do all of this with so few people it’s astounding.

That employees weather the political winds along with the elements is equally impressive. The faces of elected and appointed individuals shift like the blustery change of seasons. Through the fluctuation of “leadership”, long-term employees remain committed to this City and their purpose, above the influence of red or blue, no matter the department.

The work they do is difficult, stressful, and eminently worthwhile. They have much to be proud of and are thanked for their efforts far too infrequently.

That some elected officials don’t recognize or are unwilling to acknowledge the accomplishments of the people that make this monumental effort every day speaks to how very uninformed they are. More startling, media pundits that regularly report on the goings-on of government are also frequently ignorant and biased, which brings me to my reason for writing after weeks of hiatus. The Recorder’s editorial of Tuesday, March 30th was ridden with misinformation and is uniquely deserving of rebuttal.

The editor incorrectly attributed my decision to veto Golf Commission-recommended fees to a petulant unwillingness to work with the sitting Council. It is his opinion that if faced with a Council that has unanimously voted one way, I should quietly acquiesce rather than waste time with a veto. I strongly disagree. It is my responsibility as CEO of this City to veto any resolution that I believe is not in the best interests of the taxpayers. In this case, the Controller informed me that the proposed fees and resulting golf budget would be $70K short. I could not, in good conscience, allow this decision to go unchallenged for the obvious reason that the golf budget was financially unsound. Also forcing my decision were the hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonding needed for capital projects at the course (drainage, cart path improvements and upgrades to the club house) and the fact that the budget committee is charged with looking for additional sources of revenue for what had been a purported shortfall of $1.7M in the 2010/11 city budget.

In June of 2009, Union College MBA students submitted a well-researched report and strategic plan for the course with a bevy of changes (beyond personnel swapping mentioned next) that suggest the Muni could produce over $400K a year annually. It has effectively been shelved. The Council should demand that this plan be implemented.

The editor goes on to state that shifting employees at the course to DPW could “save the city between $200,000 to $250,000”. This is patently incorrect; it merely shifts the cost from the golf fund to the general fund. There are no savings to our already overburdened taxpayers. That said, this administration has been in discussions with the labor unit to negotiate such a move because of the need for additional men at DPW, given all of our perennial problems. The suggestion to hire seasonals at the golf course has not been “continually ignored” by my office.

Nor have the hydrants been ignored. We’ve replace 30 of them in 90 days as well as valves but I must reiterate, we do not have a “hydrant” problem. We have an acute failure of the entire water distribution system due to the lack of systematic, proactive maintenance, resources and planning. This is the first administration to tackle this larger problem in ages, which has been widely reported.

I agree with the oft-mistaken editor on one point: the city is in danger of loosing its grant funding for Bridge Street reconstruction if this Council does not bond for its necessary match to progress this project. We must move swiftly to ensure this neighborhood realizes the revitalization envisioned in our Comprehensive Plan. While I agree on this one point, I most emphatically refute this paper’s continued assertion that the possible Chalmers rehabilitation held up this project. That was never the case and repeating this lie does not make it truth.

Rather than continuing down the facile path of the critic, I invite this editor to join us in coming up with concrete solutions to our problems.

This administration has been “consistently” moving forward. We have negotiated a handsome sales tax distribution agreement with the County and new water agreements with the surrounding towns that will generate much-needed revenues as the economy improves. We’ve restructured the codes department to enhance accountability and are doing targeted area sweeps. We’ve begun the zoning rewrite that will better serve our businesses and neighborhoods. We’ve launched a marketing strategy that includes an effective web presence and collateral print materials. We’ve raised our profile in the Capital District and have managed to attract the attention of the State for the possible relocation of a central data center to Amsterdam, a $100M construction project that would bring over 100 good paying jobs. We’ve reactivated the neighborhood watch and beautification efforts in partnership with the APD and community action groups. We’re negotiating a mutually beneficial revenue sharing agreement with GAVAC. We’ve revamped the property disposition process and hope to partner with URA to manage the many properties recently taken in foreclosure. The list goes on and on.

I grant that there is much more work to do, but we are making real progress all of the time. I also expect to be criticized as Mayor. It’s part and parcel of this very exciting and rewarding job. Generally, I ignore the chatter as I cannot afford to take my focus off of our goals. Unfortunately, this editorial pushed me to spend an evening in response. In the end, I suppose it’s all good. I’ve been given the opportunity to set the story straight and for this, I am grateful.

Faith and doubt both are needed – not as antagonists, but working side by side to take us around the unknown curve. ~Lillian Smith

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Naming My Daughter

In the Uruba tribe of Africa, children are
named not only at birth but throughout their
lives by their characteristics and the events
that befall them.

The one who took hold in the cold night
The one who kicked loudly
The one who slid down quickly in the ice storm
She who came while the doctor was eating dessert
New one held up by heels in the glare
The river between two brothers
Second pot on the stove
Princess of a hundred dolls
Hair like water falling beneath moonlight
Strides into the day
She who runs away with motorcycle club president
Daughter kicked with a boot
Daughter blizzard in the sky
Daughter night-pocket
She who sells sports club memberships
One who loves over and over
She who wants child but lost one.
She who wants marriage but has none
She who never gives up
Diana (Goddess of the Chase)
Doris (for the carrot-top grandmother
she never knew)
Fargnoli (for the father
who drank and left and died)
Peter Pan, Iron Pumper
Tumbleweed who goes mouths without calling
Daughter who is a pillar of light
Daughter mirror, Daughter stands alone
Daughter boomerang who always comes back
Daughter who flies forward into the day
where I will be nameless.

– Patricia Fargnoli, from Necessary Light. © Utah State University Press, 1999.

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“VETO STATEMENT Resolution 09/10-255

The City is facing extremely difficult economic challenges. It is unavoidable that drastic cuts in services, significant increases in taxes, and appropriation of fund balance will be necessary in the general fund.

It is irresponsible to ignore a potential source of revenue in the face of extraordinary financial stress. One such revenue source is the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course. The Union College MBA Student Business Plan shows that the golf course is under-producing. The report projected that with proper management and operational restructuring the course should generate $1.3M in revenue. The proposed pricing structure the Council has adopted is projected to produce $537, 821 in annual revenue. This business plan was issued in June of 2009. To date, the golf commission has not adequately implemented recommendations to increase revenue. The Common Council should review this issue and adopt a rate structure that will boost revenue at the golf course. The enhanced revenue coupled with more efficient staffing would allow for a transfer of funds from the golf fund to the general fund therefore reducing taxes.

I hereby veto this resolution.”

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Updated Water Distribution/Fire Hydrant
Summary & Action Plan

Overview of Previous Activities

– Replacement of 11 hydrants along Church Street
– Stimulus request of $21.5 Million: Identified water distribution problems, fire prevention upgrades, general health & safety issues

– Spring fires
– April 23: Flushing of hydrants commenced over period of 20 working days
– List of out-of-service hydrant list compiled

– Comprehensive Strategy developed

– Agreement with AFSCME to replace some hydrants to avoid improper practice grievances
– Engineering Department directed to make purchase of hydrants; implement replacement strategy

– Phase I & II Water Distribution Improvement demonstration made to Council by McDonald Engineering
– Hydrant purchase approved
– Bombard contract approved

– Winterization of hydrants

Dec. 2009 – Feb 2010
– 28 hydrants/10 valves replaced
(Little snow cover this year resulted in a deep frost line and increased deterioration of lines)

– CDBG grant request made for funding of Phase II improvements of Water Distribution System for fire prevention/public health

Systemic problems:
– Past practices severely compromised hydrants; caused severe corrosion, stems easily breakable
– Lubrication unlikely to alleviate breaks
– Restricted line flow: size of lines throughout city insufficient for fire truck pump using modern equipment

Action Plan
Implementation of new department policy and procedure will include the following steps:

– Fire Hydrant on Frederick Street to be installed this week; vendor has been contacted to apply lease of equipment to a purchase
– McDonald Engineering to devise procedure to pressure test hydrants (procedure, forms, etc.)
Fire Department to conduct flow testing throughout city (flushing and flow testing cannot be completed simultaneously; two different processes)
Requires closing off system incrementally to test (night work)
– Identifying hydrants in need of repair/replacement
Hydrants to be painted w/ color signifying issue
Hydrants to be clearly numbered
Plan to consider advanced age of system; possible problems in testing (breakages/leaks)
– Check operability systematically: valves, lines. PRV’s
– Reporting/Resolution
Inter-Departmental forms/sharing of information
Simultaneous reporting to AFD/DPW/Engineering
– Red-Alert System to be utilized in identifying hydrant/water distribution issues (connections made to City Hall today)
Chief of Fire Dept. to develop data base
Coordinates (latitude & longitude) of hydrants to be identified using Google Earth maps
Data Collection
Tracking & reporting
Notations/Status changes
Shared in cooperation with DPW/Engineering/Code Enforcement
Engineering to review hydrant map; compare with reported hydrant list
Track repairs/replacement;
Testing of multiple hydrants open in specified area to determine effect on flow
– Policy & Procedure Generation
More efficient prioritization made in determining repairs/replacement
Ensure practical maintenance schedule/replacement of lines/valves (regular cyclical testing)
– Staffing & Training
Coordination procedures to be devised between departments
Adequate training of employees

In addition to the steps identified in the action plan, the administration is also recommending establishing a dedicated fund to be used solely for the repair/replacement of water mains and water distribution systems.

Executive Summary

Administration, affiliated department executives and the city’s engineering consultants noted that there were no pre-existing plans for proactive maintenance and water distribution improvements. Elements of chief concern were inadequate tracking, data collection policy, planning and funding.

Most importantly, the issues that have arisen are not solely hydrant problems. They are indicative of the failure of an entire system with respect to water lines, valves, hydrants, manpower, maintenance, planning, tracking and monetary resources.

Though failure of our infrastructure is a painful reality, this administration recognizes this as an opportunity to institute proactive change, which has been incrementally devised and implemented over the past year. Health and safety are still our number one priorities.

The City of Amsterdam must make decisions that will serve the best interests of our community for years to come. The city has very experienced, talented employees that address impossibly difficult circumstances each day. These employees deserve our praise and the residents of Amsterdam deserve a firm commitment by the elected Council to provide adequate funding/bonding in addressing these public health and safety matters.

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“I am always with you,
even when you are not able to feel me in your heart.
I love you always,
I surround you with my protecting love,
even when you occasionally forget me.
I listen to your problems,
if you are sincere and receptive, I give you solutions.
I hear your prayers and answer those which are in the best interest
of everyone in your life including, but not limited to, you.

I am the light and the thoughts in your mind,
I am the sight in your eyes,
I am the life in your body,
I am the feelings you feel in your heart.
I am always at work in your life for your greater good,
although you may not always believe this;
hopefully, your faith in me will grow constant.
You must realize:
“my will is whatever is happening in the present moment”.
Within this moment you must think and act
with integrity, humility and courage,
you must trust in me,
and surrender your will to mine through acceptance.
If you continue to demonstrate acceptance,
integrity, humility, courage and trust,
you will discover the secret of opening your heart to my love.
The greater your faith in me
the more I am able fill your heart with my love.

It is I, who grants you the serenity to accept
the things you cannot change,
the courage to change the things you can
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Eventually you will realize the samplings of love
I bestow on you through others
are purposefully designed to draw you closer to me.
It is only I, who loves you unconditionally,
I am an ever-flowing fountain of love, peace and joy,
I will never disappoint you; I will always be with you.
I mete out to you the exact amount of pain you cause others,
because I want you to be compassionate.
I want you to be able to give love and equally as important,
I want you to be able to receive love.
How else will you learn to love me?
How will you learn to accept my love?
The moment you realize the error of your ways,
the moment you sincerely regret the pain you cause others,
I forgive you; I nourish you with my tender mercies.
remember, I never stop loving you for you are my precious child.”

god’s love – paul mastromarino

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Hero number umpteen.

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