Archive for March, 2010


“Cautious, careful people always casting about to preserve their reputation or social standards never can bring about reform. Those who are really in earnest are willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathies with despised ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences.”

– Susan B. Anthony

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BUDGET 2010-2011

March 9, 2010

City of Amsterdam Common Council
Budget Review Committee
City Hall, 61 Church Street
Amsterdam, NY 12010

Upon initial inspection of the preliminary 2010-2011 Fiscal Year Budget, the following concerns should be examined and considered for reassessment of the projected budget calculations:

1. Constitutional tax limit calculations indicate an incorrect summation of the previous 5 year tax roll; error carried through remaining calculations:
• 2010-2011 calculated tax margin – $2,703,685.00
• Reassessed: $6,731,108.00

2. Charter-imposed 1% tax margin calculation contains error in tax-levy (general city purpose); error carried through to tax margin:

3. Resulting tax margin miscalculations carried through City Budgeting calculations.

4. General Revenue projections contain several line items in need of examination:
• A1090: Int. & Penalties on Real Property – 09/10 does not reflect expected revenue on foreclosure and readjustment for bad debt service. Resulting 10/11 projection then requires reassessment.
• A1130: Utilities Gross Receipts Tax – requires additional analysis/justification for projected decrease; possible amendment
• A1589 Code Enforcement Fees – 09/10 does not appear to contain nail and mail services; 10/11 projection does not reflect court fees; What is the itemization of $10,000.00 revenue projection
• A2401: Int. and Earnings on Investment – 09/10 currently listed as $2.00; Updated booking required; 10/11 projections should be reviewed once current year realized is reassessed
• A2706: GASD Contract – no change is reflected from 09/10; pay raises might not have been accurately accounted.
• A2801: Interfund Revenue – 10/11 projection should require modification to balance (Water Expenses); water interfund transfer should be examined.
• Interfund transfer from Golf not indicated in General Revenue

5. Town of Florida F2141 water revenues may be underestimated; McDonald Engineering projects additional $200,000.00

6. Water Revenue Interest & Penalties F2148 should result in increase with sale of tax liens.

7. City flat rate percentage increase not accurately calculated; error carried through remainder of calculations.

8. Personnel Services in Water Expenses should not calculate chief plant operator (Dept. Head).

9. Sewer Revenue: Flat sewer dollar difference figure incorrect in comparison of 09/10 and 10/11; Does not consider anticipated revenue from Beechnut or Industrial Surcharge; requires reassessment.

10. Sewer metered unit conversion is overestimated; requires modification.

11. Transportation Personnel Services requires modification as it does not accurately configure mechanic salary.

By copy of this letter, the Controller of the City of Amsterdam is requested to examine the aforementioned items and prepare for the Budget Review Committee a corrected projection for the 2010/2011 fiscal year budget.

Ann M. Thane

Mayor, City of Amsterdam
Chair, Budget Review Committee

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Today, I’m going to review the budget with my staff and Kim Brumley as they have breadth of experience and knowledge of finance that I do not have. It’s not a secret. I want to understand the complexities of this budget before going into the chamber. It is my intention to work with the Council to craft a budget that is best for the taxpayers of the City of Amsterdam. This is not to slight my colleagues but to enhance my understanding of the document. I would encourage each of the aldermen to review the budget with trusted advisors before we come together in the chamber as well. We need all of the help we can get. To that end (and this is where you may participate), as soon as I may get the file converted to a pdf, I will be posting the budget here, on the City website and on facebook so that everyone may see the intricacies of this document and make constructive suggestions.

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letter to ex-wife

“I have lots of things to teach you now,
in case we ever meet,
concerning the message that was transmitted to me
under a pine tree in North Carolina
on a cold winter moonlit night.

It said that Nothing Ever Happened, so don’t worry.
It’s all like a dream.
Everything is ecstasy, inside.
We just don’t know it because of our thinking-minds.
But in our true blissful essence of mind is known
that everything is alright forever and forever and forever.
Close your eyes,
let your hands and nerve-ends drop,
stop breathing for 3 seconds,
listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world,
and you will remember the lesson you forgot,
which was taught in immense milky ways
of cloudy innumerable worlds
long ago and not even at all.
It is all one vast awakened thing.
I call it the golden eternity.
It is perfect.
We were never really born,
we will never really die.
It has nothing to do with the imaginary idea
of a personal self,
other selves,
many selves everywhere,
or one universal self.
Self is only an idea, a mortal idea.
That which passes through everything, is one thing.
It’s a dream already ended.
There’s nothing from staring at mountains months on end.
They never show any expression,
they are like empty space.
Do you think the emptiness of space will ever crumble away.
Mountains will crumble, but the emptiness of space,
which is the one universal essence of mind,
the one vast awakenerhood,
empty and awake,
will never crumble away because it was never born.

The world you see is just a movie in your mind.”

– jack kerouac

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“There is no way to happiness,
happiness is the way.

You should be happy right in the here and now.
There is no way to enlightenment.
Enlightenment should be right here and right now.
The moment when you come back to yourself, mind and body together,
fully present, fully alive, that is already enlightenment.
You are no longer a sleepwalker.
You are no longer in a dream.
You are fully alive.
You are awake.
Enlightenment is there.

And if you continue each moment like that,
enlightenment becomes deeper.
More powerful.

There is no way to enlightenment,
enlightenment is the way.”

– vietnamese zen buddhist monk – thich nhat hanh – 2007

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In the absence of a Community and Economic Development Department, the Property Disposition Committee has been discussing a strategy to deal with fifty or so City-owned properties, as well as the approximate 120 new properties that we have just taken in foreclosure. The following are notes from the meeting. The obstacles to the plan include proper staffing and the funding necessary to realize the goals of the plan. That said, though the challenge is daunting, our opportunities are realistic.

Property Disposition Meeting Notes: February 21, 2010
Strategy for City-owned properties

Short Term

Compile a complete list of properties:
– Create a history of each property (code violations, neighborhood pricing, sales data)
– Create searchable data base on server

Property assessment:
– Assess as vacant/occupied, open, condition, etc.
– post buildings as City-owned

Map locations for visual reference
– Color code lots, abandoned residential, and occupied properties
– Eventually GIS map/track this data

Develop Property Task Force:
Identify Partners – URA, AHA, Realtors, Banks, Chamber, Habitat for Humanity, County Planning

Develop customized strategies for neighborhoods/streets:
– Targeted code enforcement
– Develop marketing strategy working with public/private entities, realtors, chambers, etc.
– Promote remodeled block strategy as opposed to individual rehab
– Expand definition of “abandoned” to include rental units that have been functionally abandoned by owners
– Take blighted properties by eminent domain
– Continue demolition of properties that are too far gone

Identify resources/incentives for rehab/first time homeowners:
– HOME program (URA)
– CDBG: investigate Troy CDBG funded stabilization revolving fund
– Establish a revolving loan fund to secure/stabilize properties the City will sell
– Create Local Historic preservation incentives
– Utilize NYS Historic Homeownership Rehabilitation tax credit
– promote historically sensitive rehab of unique architecture (expand to commercials)
– Energy efficiency (NYSERDA grants)
– Rehab Loans: low interest/deferred financing
– Local legislation
– Provide owner education
– HUD housing counseling
– Ownership responsibilities
– Credit counseling
– Lease to purchase arrangements

Exterior paint program: low/modern income owner-occupants

Small grant rehab program to target:
– Exteriors
– Home code violation repairs

Moderate rehab grant:
– Repair replacement of major systems

Foreclosure strategies:
– Secure properties (close them up)
– Establish value of property
– Market selected clusters of properties
– Rentals: contract to property management group
– Create a lease that stipulates tenants responsible for simple maintenance
(shovel sidewalks, grass); owner – major repairs
– Bundle properties (2-6 unit buildings) for property management
– Renting is sometimes a bridge to ownership: provide quality rental housing that
is well-managed.
– Rents go into maintenance fund
– Contract with Property Management Corporation? (i.e., Rivercrest)

Ensure quality rehabs:
– Make code compliant for resale/occupation
– Major systems upgrades completed before sale
– Address safety hazards, sanitation
– Minimize physical deterioration
– Cosmetically pleasing to purchaser (paint and clean carpets)
– Emphasize green retrofits
– Durable construction
– Purchaser must add major rehab and amenities after sale

Post-demolition: neighborhood stabilization plan
– Input: residents
– Creative uses: vacant land
– Parking
– Gardening/recreation
– Green energy generation

Reinstitute Community Development Department:
– Oversight planning, properties oversight, grants, partnerships, etc.
– Encourage responsible investors
– Increase requirements/oversight of purchasers
– Reduce restrictions on federal NSP (neighborhood stabilization programs) grantees
– Support capacity building, shifting funding strategies

Long Term

Successful Programs/Possibilities:

Deconstruction: cull architecturally saleable elements from properties

Establish “clean-slate property services” for hard-to-employ individuals (i.e., Chicago)
– Clean up, secure, maintain vacant properties
– Banks help fund program
– Job skills training oversight – Rivercrest, Rich Boise, Rob Spagnola,
Workforce Solutions)

Establish Land Bank or Trust
(REO: Real Estate Owned corporation)

– Needs enacting NYS legislation for communities like ours
– Concept: trust buys land house sits on; homeowner buys house but leases land
– unit appreciation stays as subsidy for next owner
– Establishes perpetual affordability
– Shared Equity
– Coordination between stakeholders
– Lender commitment to long-term vision
– Standardize value calculation

or, another model other communities have used

MDB: Mission Driven Brokerage service (not-for-profit)

– Address needs of marginal buyers (low, middle-income) communities
with specific incentives
– Sustainable home ownership through co-partnering of the MDB and mortgage brokers
– Encourages a responsible match between buyer and seller
– Develop firewall between real estate counseling and brokerage agent
– Encourages owner-occupant sales rather than “investor” sales

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