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Archive for March 31st, 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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