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Archive for the ‘demolition’ Category

Good afternoon and welcome to City Hall. It is my honor to offer an annual assessment of the progress this administration has made over time and to set some goals for the coming year.

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The word “Renaissance” has been bandied about a bit lately, which is not a word I regularly cite in regard to our city. It is a word that suggests extravagance and romance. One imagines colorful medieval robes, mortared courtyards, writhing statuary, and spiraling baroque architecture all set in the rolling hills of Tuscany.

Not quite the picture of Amsterdam, NY in 2015.

Ours is a typical, twenty-first century, post-industrial American city that has experienced difficulty and true struggle over the decades. The beating heart of our downtown was ripped out, businesses and jobs fled the state, traffic patterns were hopelessly scrambled, and government’s frequent response had been to cut away funding for critical infrastructure, equipment and workforce. Amsterdam was vigorously torn apart in a physical way and the soul of this community tore in ways that have been ceaselessly painful and difficult to mend.

It’s easy to point out the trouble of past years, especially foibles of the last year. I will take a different tact. I see no good in giving ill will and dysfunction entry into a new year that may be recast into a time of faithful service, cooperation and most certainly progress.

With that, I will briefly highlight the successes 2014 brought us and plans for the coming year.

Fiscal Responsibility

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We continue to heal years of chaos in our Department of Finance thanks in great part to the diligent work of our new Controller Matthew Agresta. I cannot say enough about the tremendous job Matt is doing. He is skillfully progressing the many tasks identified in our Corrective Action Plan that the prior council, city attorney, Matt and I scripted in response to an audit done by the Office of the State Comptroller. He’s readily taken command of staff, process and remedy. He’s successfully shifted his department from antiquated accounting software to the state-of-the-art municipal system that will allow for prompt reporting and analysis. He’s recommended an upgrade of the city’s computer and telecommunication systems, and will see to it that the technological needs of city government are met. He’s overseen the dissolution of the insurance trust and is finally progressing the foreclosure that had languished in the hands of his two predecessors. He has been directing reconciliations of internal records, bank statements, and the general ledger necessary to complete our reports to the State.

Thankfully, it looks like we will be in good stead at the end of this process, with a fund balance that is trending in a positive direction. This trend indicates that this administration has confidently led us through the global recession at a time when State government has limited our revenues and expenses have escalated at alarming rates. These crushing realities have devastated other communities economically.

The most important quality that our young Controller presents is that he is a consummate team player and puts partisan politics aside for the betterment of this community. It has been a pleasure to have a partner that willingly takes up the mantle of his office and works peacefully toward the goal of making Amsterdam thrive. Thank you, Matt.

And thrive we will, thanks to the many hands that make light work of our tasks. We have a tremendously skilled workforce and wonderful volunteers that hold the vision of a restored Amsterdam in their hearts and put their backbone toward my next topic:

Revitalization

Not to be confused with a fully realized renaissance, revitalization is an incremental process that takes time, patience and extreme effort. This past year saw numerous projects implemented and completed that improve the physical fabric of our surroundings.

This is a list of some of our many accomplishments.

• The Reid Hill neighborhood received two $400K Community Development Block Grants over two consecutive years that allowed for interior and exterior property improvements of over 50 structures. We coupled that with several demolitions and road improvements on Bell Hill that included curbing and sidewalks to an active pedestrian area. This year, we will apply for funding for these activities in the Grand Street area.

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• Colonial Gardens and the Roosevelt Garden apartment complexes saw the complete rehabilitation of all 269 units, and 100 Woodrow Wilson apartments are under way. This reconstruction entailed complete renovation of all windows, siding, insulation, roofs, kitchens, bathrooms, carpeting, living space and common areas, ensuring attractive, safe and affordable housing to low-income families.

• The downtown traffic pattern rerouting has been completed without the “carmagedon” that had been anticipated by feverish naysayers.

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• Footings to the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook are in place. We will see this structure rapidly develop over the coming construction season into the beautiful, treed, pedestrian bridge envisioned in our Comprehensive Plan.

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• Shuttleworth Park saw the laying of the controversial new artificial turf and drainage. Thank you to Gabriel Paving and Contracting and the Amsterdam Mohawks for their extraordinary generosity in seeing that this job was installed by baseball season. We’ve also built a new deck, put new stadium seating in place and have constructed a warming hut by the creek for ice skaters, winter joggers and snow shoeing enthusiasts.

• Phase IV of our storm sewer infrastructure project was completed and we’ve just received $600K funding for Phase V. Over the past five years, the city has received $3 million dollars in grants to eliminate cross connections between the storm water and sewer systems, saving the city from costly fines while protecting our residents and natural environment.

• We’ve steadily progressed repairs to our water distribution system and now can report that out of over 1,000 hydrants, only six are out of service.

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• Citywide volunteer clean-ups in the Spring and Fall have cleared out a six year total of 24 TONS of litter from our streets, water ways and public spaces. BRAVO to every man, woman and child that helped in this effort!

Collaboration

Our partnerships with surrounding municipalities continue to develop. Several notable projects will impact our budget and neighborhoods.

For several decades, our community has looked longingly toward the Capital District for inclusion. I am proud of our growing relationship with Schenectady. This is exceedingly important. We have not seen such opportunity for shared growth or collaboration since GE had its heyday.

I’d like to thank Mayor Gary McCarthy specifically for including Amsterdam in a vision for prosperity along the Mohawk that is natural and familiar.

• Our partnership brought a successful launching of the Capital District Land Reutilization Corporation (the “Landbank”), which is off to a great start. Through this channel, Amsterdam has received $562,000 in funding for over a dozen rehabilitation projects and demolitions. Work on the first rehab in Amsterdam, the Julia Street property, will be completed before the flowers blossom.

• Amsterdam threw its support heavily to Schenectady in support of its Casino application once it was clear Montgomery County was out of the fight. Their award will mean jobs for our residents and hopefully interest from developers along the river that see opportunities just upstream on our shores.

• Amsterdam and Schenectady have been working with the Center for Technology and Growth and are proud to announce a $550K grant with Gloversville and Troy to design a shared code enforcement module. This prototype will track blight, out of town landlords, and help us to better address deterioration of properties. It may one day be used across the state or better yet, the nation.

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• Five capital district mayors have bonded together to take up the President’s National Mayor’s Challenge to End Veteran’s Homelessness in the Capital District. Amsterdam, Schenectady, Albany, Saratoga and Troy are committed to fulfilling this mission by 2016.

• We’ve been exploring shared service opportunities with Montgomery County. We will start by tracking actions we already collaborate on and a full inventory of public works equipment and laborers. Some additional initiatives I have been proposing since 2009 include shared records management, energy procurement and efficiencies, labor negotiations, and GIS mapping of critical infrastructure.

• We’ve negotiated a sludge disposal agreement with Madison County to take the particulate from our wastewater treatment plant. This deal will save our taxpayers $125,000 in our annual budget.

• We’ve opened up discussions with Fulton County to determine if selling water to their communities is feasible. We know our water will enable economic growth further north and south as it has on RT30 in the Towns of Amsterdam and Florida.

• We just signed a solar energy contract that will save the city $264,000 a year, resulting in $12M over the lifetime of the agreement.

• FMCC, Montgomery and Fulton Counties and CDTA have been meeting with us to possibly establish a regional transportation strategy that services our communities in a cost-efficient, effective manner.

• Of course, we are proud of the success we’ve had in bringing grant money to our city. This year’s regional economic development council awards target City Hall reparations at $225K, the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook $325K, and the aforementioned city infrastructure repairs of $600K.

Quality of Life

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Across this nation, it is recognized that revitalization is spurred by amenities and attractions that enrich our quality of life. To that end, many, many hands are sharing in the responsibility for shoring up this city, and perhaps none so vigorously as those working to provide cultural and recreational opportunities for youth and families. W1shfu1:Th1nk1ng (especially TJ Czeski, Jon Sumpter, Casey Martin, Calvin Martin and Matt Moller) has played an integral part in outreach and mentoring to an at-risk community that has long been neglected. The women of the Creative Connections Arts Center (Barbara Neznek, Tammy Merendo, and Suzannah Hunter) offer instruction as well as loving, familial relationships to some children that have never experienced such caring. Danielle’s House provides welcome to the homeless and the school district has received funding that will allow us to address the nutritional and physical health of families that we had intended in last year’s “Reinvent Yourself Amsterdam” program.

Our recreation department has been at the center of much of this activity, coordinating events, spaces, and interested parties. Bacon Recreation Center and the Arts Center continue to be hubs of activity for fun and learning. We host basketball workshops and tournaments, Saturday morning play dates for toddlers, and Summer Camp to hundreds of children. We have an award winning 4H Club, community garden and after-school tutoring for any child that wants help. We offer free-swimming classes to kids at the city pool and free buses that get them there from our poorer neighborhoods.

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Our annual events are growing in participants and impact. Spring Fling attracts thousands of visitors to our Main Street and our Farmers Market makes locally produced vegetables and products available to a community that is hungry for this opportunity (thank you to Sherri Crouse for being a primary organizer of both efforts!) W1shfu1:Th1nk1ng’s Annual 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament at Vets Field commemorates a moment of extreme pain in our community, marking the tragic murder of two young boys, as well as the willingness of this community to resiliently push back with love. The same rings true for National Night Out, populated by our Neighborhood Watch Association members, families and many organizations that are committed to fostering a safe and healthy environment for our residents.

It’s important to stop here and point out how safe we are in relative terms. In fact, our statistics show that the City of Amsterdam’s crime rate is trending downward over the past three years and compared to surrounding municipalities, we are very safe. This does not mean we must pull back from efforts to manage wrongdoing. It means we are going in the right direction. To this end we have expanded APD’s outreach to the public via electronic media and instituted “Tell us Tuesday” regarding wanted subjects. Tips from this avenue have led to successful arrests. We’ve developed the animal control site, “Furry Friends Friday” which will assist adoption of local rescued animals. We’ve expanded surveillance cameras in the Five Corners area, reinstituted walking beats in problem areas of the City, received a $100,000 Homeland Security Tactical Team Grant, and are partnering in a newly developing “Crime Stoppers” program. We will fill vacancies at the police department and come up with more programs that bring neighbors together and encourage youth.

Other areas where we’ve triumphed are as follows:
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Sassafras Playground received a much-needed facelift from a group of dedicated volunteers and city staff. Rusty nails, splintered wood and vandalized areas were remedied and a fresh coat of paint brought the aged structure back to life for young families.

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• The GAR Park and monument dedicated to Civil War Veterans below City Hall was reestablished. The lawn now hosts an expansive flower garden and labyrinth that attracts visitors from around the world. The cost has been negligible to taxpayers.

Action

There are several projects we will aggressively pursue this year. They include:
IMG_8804Master Planning. Over the past few years we have compiled studies, reports, assessments and plans from various sources. We’ve generated the Waterfront Heritage BOA and Northeast BOA forums, train station relocation and waterfront walkway feasibility studies, the NY Rising strategic plan, a state-mandated Hazard Mitigation plan, the Fulton/Montgomery and Regional Economic Development Plans, the Erie Canalway Heritage Corridor Plan, our Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan and a couple of Municipal Golf Course strategic plans. This Spring, HUD will begin a citywide assessment of housing and community issues. All of these documents must be condensed into one cohesive executive summary. To that end, we will convene a Master Planning Committee to come up with a new guiding document that augments our older Comprehensive Plan. Some of the goals and strategies in the original document still hold for today’s world; others must be updated to address the evolving needs of our city in the 21st century. We should take this opportunity to think about where we want to be in ten years and what we may do purposely to achieve our desires. This will be an exciting and thought provoking process.

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• As the cold season wanes and work again starts up on the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook, we will press hard to market the Chalmers and downtown properties on Main and Bridge Streets. We are planning a late-winter event that will feature hidden commercial and residential spaces that can be the envy of the Mohawk Valley.

• The Concordia assisted living facility will be built adjacent to the River Ridge Living Center, providing over 100 good paying jobs and much-needed access to this type of care in our City. The hotel downtown will be revamped and a new business will launch at the FGI building on Edson Street. The collapsing wall along Dove Creek will be repaired and RT5 will be reconstructed to alleviate annual flooding in that area along the river.

• We are well into the conceptual process necessary to build a new Recreation Center. Renderings, cost estimates and an initial operational budget have been conceived. We are studying several possible locations and have spoken to a few well-known developers about the project. We’ve also begun the arduous task of raising money with our not-for-profit partners to make this a reality. We are certain that this project will be successful on several levels, not the least being the wellbeing of our youth and families.

• We are also looking to convert Isabel’s Field to a ball park and playground facility that will support individuals with special requirements, i.e., those with mobility challenges needing wheelchair access, grab bars, etc. We know that this type of offering would attract individuals and teams from across the region and would be a proud addition to our recreational provisions.

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• Just as every resident is responsible to keep up with the maintenance of their home, City Hall will see necessary reconstruction of several critically compromised areas of the building, including the back patio and portico off of the southeast wing. This is the primary seat of city government and protecting this asset directly signifies the pride we have for our heritage.

• For those of you that are aficionados of modern technologies, we will implement a mobile application available to smart phones and computers that makes it easier for residents to report concerns such as graffiti, potholes or suspicious activities in their neighborhoods. The application, used by many cities and towns across the country, allows administration to more effectively track work orders, set goals, and gather macro-data to support budgetary requests.

• There are many smaller actions that we will take to address our common concerns. We will be proposing new legislation targeting enhanced code enforcement efforts pertaining to vacant properties and restoration incentives. We will begin a scheduled program off employee training to keep our staff safe and secure. We will open up ways to generate additional revenues and cooperate with our partners. I hope that, in this Chamber, we will commit to respectful and considerate behavior.

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It is the duty of this government to reconstruct the tattered quilt of this community into a colorful, well-constructed patchwork of hope. We must take the torn pieces of our physical reality and repurpose them into an environment that is vibrant and growing. This takes sincere good will, ingenuity and willing compromise. I humbly ask my fellow members of the Council to work WITH me and do all in their power to see that we succeed.

Thankfully, we may depend on the indelible strength and charity of the people of Amsterdam to assist us in this goal. Together, we will must keep to our dreams for this city and provide the foundation for a proud, kind and prosperous future.

As Lady Bird Johnson so aptly put it, “While the spirit of neighborliness was important on the frontier because neighbors were so few, it is even more important now because our neighbors are so many.”

May we all depend upon each other in these times of change. Thank you.

Mayor Ann M. Thane

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QUESTION: do you follow the person that points out problems or do you follow the person that’s done something about them? The city’s finances have been out of wack for over a decade.

This administration has:

• called these problems to the attention of the council and the media for six years (documented in writing);

• WITH THE COOPERATION OF PAST COUNCILS,
purchased specialized municipal accounting software;

• WITH THE COOPERATION OF PAST COUNCILS,
hired outside experts to help unravel the problems;

• WITH THE COOPERATION OF PAST COUNCILS,
brought in $24M dollars in grants and stimulus funds to fix infrastructure & equipment, advance huge capital projects, and offset the cost of bonding;

• WITH THE COOPERATION OF PAST COUNCILS,
scripted the Corrective Action Plan submitted to the state in order to move past our troubles;

• WITH THE COOPERATION OF PAST COUNCILS,
reworked utility fees so that they BENEFIT CITY TAXPAYERS; and

INCREASED REVENUE by millions of dollars to the annual budget.

The FACTS speak for themselves. My administration has proactively handled problems with creativity and action.

That’s LEADERSHIP.

“Anyone can hold the helm, when the sea is calm” – Publilius Syrus

leadership

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Good evening, members of the Common Council, fellow elected and appointed officials, members of the City workforce and, most importantly, residents and friends of the City of Amsterdam. It is an honor and privilege to present my sixth State of the City address. It is my charge to inform you of the successes and challenges of 2012, and likewise as we look ahead to the coming year.

I’d like to tell you a story about speech writing. For me, I must have quiet and time to research my subject matter and come up with a structure for this discourse.

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I spent the better part of the weekend in my office, culling through a year’s worth of notes (anyone who knows me, knows I am never without my notebook.) At one point, my husband was good enough to drop off a couple of bottles of my favorite beverage, Vanilla Pear Seltzer, and spent some time meandering around my office and City Hall. This brought about a short discussion concerning all of the significant changes that we’ve made to the space since I had taken office. Of course, while looking over the various photos of my family, neither one of us could believe the changes in our children since 2008. These years stole my small children away and left in their place beautiful, accomplished, young adults ready to make their own ways in the world.

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The office and building have undergone huge changes. Walls have been painted; furniture, curtains, and carpets replaced; light fixtures upgraded; storm windows installed; asbestos removed and pipes re-wrapped; cabinets and closets repurposed; new offices and public spaces, including the infamous rose garden, created; as well as the leaking roof secured. The changes have impacted staff morale and the perception of important visitors to our seat of government. As “they” say, image is everything.

But there is still so much more to do. The building is over 100-years old and will need continued love and maintenance to realize its true potential. As many of you that own an older home realize, we will never be done.

So it is for this city.

It is important that we understand that the work of revitalizing an older, rustbelt city is a painstaking and continuous process. It is truly a labor of love.

In thinking about the drivers of this process over the past months and years, I have identified three areas of significance: Priorities, People and Promises.

PRIORITIES
Amsterdam has been proactive in establishing its priorities in its Comprehensive Plan of 2003, and since that time, has been nimble in responding to evolving need and challenges. We should be quite proud that we have been progressive in this regard.

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The year, 2012, was a year of great promise, furious activity and extreme heartbreak. New faces graced the Common Council Chamber bringing a new dynamic of respect and collaboration; heavy construction projects of all varieties changed our familiar landscape; and violent acts of unbridled ferocity shook us to our core. Everything about 2012 touched upon our priorities as a community and as human beings.

Sadly, government will never be the sole solution to the problems of our community, but we will always be mindful of our purpose: to provide much needed services paid for with your hard-earned tax dollars.

It’s been my observation that some folks are uncertain as to where these mysterious tax dollars go. They pay for your clean water, sewage disposal, garbage removal, fire protection, street and park maintenance, snow plowing, code enforcement, bus transportation, crime prevention, emergency response, records management, property assessment, legal counsel, financial management and employees to staff each and every department. City government is a $30 million dollar business manned by over 200 people. It is highly complex and is amazingly responsive, given its vast responsibilities.

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Its effectiveness can be seen in our rapid recovery from the devastating storms of 2011. In under a year, most property had been restored and new projects started. We have finished a complete overhaul of fire hydrants, valves, water and sewer lines, streets, and curbing in the Market Street Hill neighborhood, which had been the scene of horrific fires in 2009. If you recall, there was not enough water to adequately confront the fires because of corroded lines. Since that time, we have been systematically addressing critically compromised areas across the city and are now down to the last ten hydrants in need of replacement out of almost 1000.

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Our accomplishments have been many and, as we have all probably noted, this was a big year for construction. It was difficult to get from one section of the city to another without crossing the path of a backhoe, crane, dump truck or burly men in fluorescent vests and hard hats. Streets in every ward were resurfaced, most visibly on Prospect Street in front of the Clock Tower and on Bunn Street at the Middle School. The State made visible progress along West Main Street and around the Public Safety Building in its planned traffic re-patterning project. Assistance from city crews was seen on Market Street as they prepared over forty structures, manholes, catch basins and storm drains, for work that will resume in the Spring.

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The City demolished 39 abandoned structures this year, bringing the elimination of dangerous properties to a total of 84 over the past five years. We also completed the very large demolition of the Chalmers Building and finished Bridge Street with the addition of a parking lot that holds 45 cars for visitors and area businesses. We are actively seeking proposals for redevelopment of the Chalmers property, as it will be the centerpiece to our waterfront and downtown revitalization efforts. Its reuse is as exciting as any new beginning and we will not settle for any project that does not present a dramatic best use for this very valuable asset.

Across the river from that site, the State has produced an economic impact study of the train station relocation and estimates the project’s effect will be an extraordinary $45 million dollars to the benefit of city coffers. Coupled with Riverlink Park, the connection to downtown, the planned Pedestrian Bridge and new Riverwalk to Guy Park Manor, our waterfront will have the potential to draw hundreds of thousands of tourists a year. The Mohawk River will once again spur our rebirth as a vibrant upstate destination.

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Most of last year’s projects that I had just mentioned had been paid for with grants from State and Federal sources. The City has been the very fortunate recipient of over $4 million dollars for various capital projects, transportation needs, crime prevention, property rehabilitation and private enterprise support thanks to the efforts of staff like URA Director and Grant Writer Nick Zabawsky, AIDA Director Jody Zakrevsky, as well as Transportation Director Cheryl Scott. Our success has also been due to our strong presence in planning for regional growth as part of the Governor’s Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council. This partnership has inspired new affiliations between six diverse counties that sit squarely at the center of the State of New York. Of note, several private entities, including St. Mary’s Healthcare, Mohawk Fabrics and Embassy Millworks, received funding to purchase additional equipment and expand operations.

Of course, all of this talk of grants and money leads us to another top priority for our city: financial stability. Careful stewardship of our taxpayer’s dollars is a primary responsibility of any governing body, and this administration has been aggressively proactive in this regard. Here in the City of Amsterdam, we have been extremely cautious with our budgeting and have been able to meet the constraints of a state-mandated 2% property tax cap. We’ve reworked our water rates so that the cost of our system is more equitably shared, generating additional revenues in the tens of thousands of dollars. Our conservative approach to financial management in combination with our substantial efforts to revitalize our community have protected our A3 ratings from both Standard & Poors and Moody’s, ensuring that we will be able to borrow money at a favorable rate and save hundreds of thousands of dollars in interest over time.

Sadly, our new Controller Ron Wierzbicki passed away after just one year in office, but because of his attention to his duties, we have instituted measures to address bank reconciliation, capital project tracking, and staff training to complete the transition to the new accounting software. The Council has wisely hired consultants to assist in these ventures and has taken action to put a Deputy Controller in place, a position that is unaffected by the election cycle, to bring necessary expertise and institutional memory to the department.

Please, may we take a moment of silence to remember our friend, Ron.

While Ron’s passing was not expected, he passed after devoting seventy-five years of his life to the city he loved and his family that he held so dear. While his death is undoubtedly painful to those closest to him, we cannot begin to fathom the depth of despair of the families that suffered the loss of their loved ones in appalling acts of violence this year.

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In all of my years living in the City of Amsterdam, I cannot remember crimes that were so senseless or violent as the murders that took place on Locust Avenue in the Spring or in the fields of the Town of Florida this Summer. Parents lost children, children lost parents, families were shattered, and our community was instantly plummeted into an environment of shock and grief. It was the darkest time in our collective memory.

May we please have a moment of silence for the families and friends that have been so ravaged by these tragedies?

The passage of time allows us to reflect on what has happened because of these crimes. As awful as these occurrences have been, they have not been delivered without gifts. We must also note the tremendous outpouring of compassion for those that had suffered so terribly and the resulting activism that has marked our response as a community.

PEOPLE
These four murders launched the largest gang investigation ever conducted in this City to halt a growing problem. Because of these crimes, emerging drug dealing and gang activity was crushed and 22 arrests made. The information developed from the investigation opened intelligence pathways for the Amsterdam Police Department that will ensure Amsterdam does not become a “gang city” in the future.

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These crimes fostered new growth of our neighborhood associations, focused on resident engagement and crime prevention. We now have 14 watch groups comprised of approximately 100 vigilant individuals flourishing in all corners of the city.

Given that incidents of violence have captured the attention of our nation, the actions we have taken to protect our way of life here are as timely as the sunrise.

Now, when we look back at this terrible chapter in our history, we will remember the hundreds of individuals that came out in prayer, in peace, and in force to take control of the destiny of this community. Our reaction was strong and immediate. Working with volunteers from across every walk of life, the City, the Greater Amsterdam School District, St. Mary’s Health Care, Centro Civico, CASA, Catholic Charities, United Way, and various state agencies have strengthened their bonds to creatively address the needs of our young people.

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A particularly heartening result of these tragedies has been the emergence of new, young leaders in our community, only in their early-20’s, willing to throw their all into rescuing others from a path that poverty or neglect may precipitate. These volunteers, in partnership with the City and GASD, have established a safe haven for children and families on the Bacon Elementary School Campus. Calling their alliance “Wishful Thinking”, these young men and women offer one-on-one mentoring and shine a light of hope and inspiration for those that follow in their footsteps. Their legendary 3-on-3 basketball tournament at Veteran’s Field raised thousands of dollars for youth programming and they are now sponsoring weights training and league basketball at the school.

This extraordinary willingness to help one’s neighbors, however, is not new to our community. Volunteerism is the hallmark of our community. Every day, residents come to the aid of others through their involvement with churches, sports teams, and not-for-profit social and cultural organizations. We support our hospital, library, museum, marching band, veterans, seniors, small children, the sick and the unfortunate. We sponsor graffiti paint outs, massive litter clean-ups (in four years, residents have picked up over 12 tons of carelessly discarded trash), and countless small fundraisers for every imaginable cause.

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Thanks to volunteers, we had our Second Annual Spring Fling in May that attracted approximately 5,000 people to our Main Street and they facilitated our Winter Mixer in December. Volunteers coordinated swimming lessons for 150 children-in-need in July (sponsored by Hero-Beechnut), National Night Out in August, and concerts at Riverlink Park all summer long. Volunteers have launched a new Arts Center on our East End, and provided the homeless of our community safe shelter over these cold winter months. They donated our new Veteran’s Memorial at Veterans Field and saved City Hall from abandonment. Light Up the Sky and the Kristy Pollock Memorial Light Display serve as celebratory destinations during the season of giving while raising thousands of dollars for their beneficiaries.

It is not uncommon to hear the same names associated with many of these activities: Baranello, Becker, Brownell, Clough, Dickerson, Falso, Fedullo, Gavry, Georgia, Hetrick, Lisciki, Lyford, Maroto, Mihalek, Morgan, Naple, Peninger, Selbert, Serano, Smith and Von Hasseln. These folks, and many, many more, religiously show up time after time at any number of functions or affairs to plan, set up rooms, man tables, lend a hand and hoist the weight of need upon their shoulders. I am deeply honored to know these fine people and thank our generous friends for their incredible efforts.

They are responsible for the bright promise of our future.

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PROMISE
In recognition of the value provided by our marvelous volunteers, Amsterdam will join 155 other communities across the country in the “Cities of Service” initiative. Members of this coalition share resources, such as comprehensive service plans and coordinated strategies that match volunteers and established community partners to areas of greatest local need. Members also qualify for various leadership grants through the program. Amsterdam’s established history of volunteerism allows us to proudly accept this designation to showcase the benefit our residents receive at the hands of volunteers.

We thrive from our partnerships with others, on a personal level and as a municipality.

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In that vein, we will continue to strengthen our commitment to the students of our community through our governmental relationship with the school district. I propose that we explore joining the America’s Promise Alliance “Grad Nation” campaign. Grad Nation is a large and growing movement of dedicated individuals, organizations and communities working together to end America’s dropout crisis. A high school diploma is an important step in preparing a young person to live an independent, secure and happy life and to contribute as part of an educated, innovative workforce.

The Grad Nation program is interesting for several reasons: 1. Many of the initiatives being put forth are already being championed by the district; 2. It points out that responsibility for graduation rates cannot solely fall to the school district – community plays a deciding role in getting students to that goal; 3. There are grants for programming, informational materials, and tools to show measurable improvement; and 4. With the burgeoning partnership between the City, GASD, SMH, Centro Civico and other community organizations, we may have an opportunity to enhance what we are currently achieving. I look forward to discussions with the school district about this exciting prospect.

We will continue to partner on projects at a municipal and regional level.

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We will nurture our relationship with Schenectady as colleagues in the newly designated Capital District Landbank. It is our intent to restore the integrity of our communities by, again, combining resources to remove dilapidated structures and redevelop abandoned properties. Our efforts will open the door for our communities to reclaim, reinvest in and rebuild our neighborhoods.

It is crucial that the City foreclose on tax-delinquent properties in the coming months in anticipation of the work that will be done via the Landbank.

I expect the coming months to be as busy as the past sixty months. We will continue to press for our fortunes as part of the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council. We will strive to bring new business to our downtown through the efforts of our new Community and Economic Development Department Director, Robert Von Hasseln. Mr. Von Hasseln is also hard at work to land a project for the Mohasco site and heavily involved in planning for waterfront and neighborhood revitalization through Brownfield opportunity funding. We will work with the State on traffic re-patterning and the train station relocation. We will investigate bringing the Waste Water Treatment digesters back on line and hydroelectric generation on the Chuctanunda Creek. We will hunt down storm/sewer connections and remedy them to avoid costly fines from the state, as well as demolish another sixteen unsafe structures.

We will consistently provide services in unpredictable times.

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As a city, we can be enormously proud of our course. In times when the world has been pummeled by economic instability, political discord and uncertainty, we have maintained a steady keel. This is thanks in great part to the planning we have done in the past, charting a map to the future through our Comprehensive Plan of 2003. It is now time to revisit the document, to set new goals for the coming decade. It is this foresight that keeps us on target and allows us to tap into various streams of funding from state and federal sources.

I’d like to close this speech by once again thanking the many people, both inside and outside of the governmental process, that make peace and charity a priority in their everyday lives. As Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, NJ points out,

“We will achieve great things if we continue to understand that the destiny of our city is shaped by citizens who counter the weight of apathy and complacency with courage and conviction.

This is the lesson I have learned from my friends here in Amsterdam, and is the lesson I wish to pass on to my children. Thank you all for this enormous gift.

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Thank you to Governor Cuomo and the Mandate Relief Council for allowing me the time to speak on the topic of mandate relief for municipalities. We are heartened that this administration recognizes the need for reform, and encourage this committee to recommend necessary changes that will assist local governments with the fiscal challenges we are currently facing.

The City of Amsterdam, like other cities, towns, villages, counties and school districts across the state, is heavily impacted by mandated costs that we have no control over. It is widely recognized that skyrocketing pension and health care costs only throw small governments into turmoil, as we must then look to eliminate personnel, equipment, projects, and programming to balance our precarious budgets. Cutting our operational lines will not remedy the escalating, annual expenses that far exceed our revenues.

Our city is a member of the New York Conference of Mayors, which has made a number of recommendations regarding mandate relief. I have forwarded the publication, “You Can’t Cut What You Can’t Control”, which had been authored by the Mayoral Task Force on Mandate and Property Relief in December 2010. The stance taken by this group is as comprehensive as it is intelligent and creative. I encourage each of you to read its contents closely and to courageously advocate for adoption of its recommendations.

As Mayor of the City of Amsterdam, a couple of specific mandates not addressed in the referenced publication have caused extreme difficulty in these trying economic times. We are faced with a large number of dilapidated buildings that are in need demolition. The cost of demolition is excessive because of state mandated requirements for asbestos removal, which includes certifications, notifications, air monitoring, specialized equipment and removal fees. We are paying upwards of $30,000 to demolish dilapidated single-family houses valued at $200. Large industrial complexes may cost as much as a million dollars or more to take down. Because of the condition of these substandard structures, the city has had to bond for millions of dollars to shoulder the cost of these actions, which increases our debt and tax burden into the future. Relief from these mandates would allow us to aggressively remove blight and tend, instead, to economic development, which in turn would build our tax base.

A second point of concern for our city is the cost of separating storm sewer lines from our sanitary sewer collection system. Even though the cross connection problem has been a condition that had existed since the system was installed and the effect of mandated actions on the environment may be minimal, we are forced to incur immediate costs in the way of assessment, planning, engineering, design and construction in the face of an economic down turn. This is another mandated action that will require bonding and cost millions of dollars. Recently, the DEC had imposed a building moratorium on the City of Amsterdam and surrounding towns because of these issues. Its duration was brief, thanks to the intercession of the Governor’s Office (again, I thank the Governor for his support in this instance), but the implications of this mandate should be noted. If New York is to be truly “open for business”, governmental agencies must work in tandem to make our state responsive to the needs of flourishing commercial interests.

To that end, cost/benefit analysis must be applied to policy changes. The fundamental question that must be answered in any mandated situation is whether or not the mandate clearly addresses an important need of society. To impose mandated actions without a clear benefit produces economic inefficiencies that drive up costs to the point where our state is no longer competitive in the global theater. The extraordinarily difficult economy offers a unique opportunity for our state legislative bodies to make brave decisions that tackle our most complicated – and politically charged – costs, and finally change the way state and local governments conduct business. On behalf of my constituents, I wish the Governor, this Council, and our State representatives the courage necessary to champion our best interests and great success in this endeavor.

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Good evening and welcome. To each and every one of you in this room and to those of you watching at home or online, thank you for caring about our City. It is a privilege to serve as Mayor of the City of Amsterdam, and to once again deliver this annual message.

This exercise makes me realize the wisdom of those that put the practice of the annual speech into place. While my experience may be one of studying city operations through a microscope, I remember that most constituents are gazing down from the window of an airplane.

The annual speech is a necessary discipline and an honor, but I must admit that it is a daunting task, as its content is so vast. While pondering this undertaking, I’ve been drawn to one theme that resonates with recent events and our shared fortunes. The phrase “tough times” comes to mind in relation to the difficult economy, crazy weather, infrastructure problems and at-risk neighborhoods.

Yes, times are certainly tough.

But just because times are tough, we do not give up. Adversity is something we are familiar with and despite the difficulties we face as a community, we meet our challenges with forceful determination. We are fighting through one of our most challenging periods in our City’s history and are holding our own. We are small, but we are tough.

2011 was a year that tested our resolve and spirit, and our community has risen to the occasion. We have reason to be proud on so many levels. Despite the financial stress felt by municipal budgets on all levels, we have weathered economic turmoil better than surrounding municipalities. Unlike the County and the School District, we have held to a self-imposed 3% tax cap. We managed this feat through creative measures that have added hundreds of thousands of dollars to our annual budget and cut spending to a bare minimum. In this past year:

• We’ve secured nearly $500,000 in additional sales tax revenue from the county.

• We’ve negotiated a new revenue sharing agreement with GAVAC that brings in $200,000 a year.

• We’ve taken recycling in-house, saving over $100,000 a year in expense.

• We are controlling discretionary overtime in all departments and have realized significant overtime savings with the addition of three patrol officers to the Amsterdam Police Department.

These initiatives have helped to shelter us from major tax increases or deeper cuts to essential services.

Our drive to succeed in tough times has resulted in the completion of key capital projects in our city that serve to enhance the quality of life of our residents. The completed projects are as diverse as they are numerous, rounding out one of our busiest construction periods ever. They include:

• Reconstruction of the Bridge Street corridor.

• Upgrades to infrastructure, including water, sewer and road systems on the South-side.

• Asbestos removal from City Hall, rewrapping of pipes, and new window inserts have resulted in tens-of-thousands of dollars in energy savings.

• $13 million dollars worth of improvements at the wastewater treatment and water filtration plants, paid for in part through stimulus funding and our agreements with Hero Beechnut.

• Removal of the fire-damaged Eddy Brush Company building and site remediation of brown-field issues.

• Demolition of 45 dilapidated and dangerous structures with some participation from Montgomery County.

• Repairs to Amsterdam’s Transportation facility including a new furnace, flooring, portable lifts, energy efficient lighting, as well as new buses, also funded through the federal stimulus program.

• Resurfacing of streets in each ward in the 2011 Road Program.

• Remediation and replacement of asbestos-covered water lines beneath Grieme Avenue Bridge.

• Construction of Riverlink Park Phase II includes new walkways, lighting and the new sculpture entitled, The Painted Rocks of Amsterdam by world-renown artist Alice Manzi.

• Additional improvements to the park include a new band shell, café deck and landscaping.

We have managed to complete these phenomenal projects in a year that we were challenged by a flood of dramatic proportions not seen in recent memory.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, we triumphed over a tumultuous set of circumstances which enabled us to see city operations at their finest. Staff mobilized to appropriately and effectively respond to the safety of the public, coordinating a comprehensive evacuation strategy, rescue efforts, temporary shelter, and traffic management protocols, all in a matter of hours.

Throughout the emergency, we were able to disseminate information in real-time through our facebook page and in partnership with WCSS and the Recorder. Because of this achievement, we now understand social networking to be more than a pastime. It is an essential tool of effective communication.

Volunteers displayed incredible compassion and selflessness, showing up in droves to assist their neighbors in recovery from tragedy in the weeks after the storms. We witnessed community partners cleaning homes and businesses, organizing donation drop-off sites and distributing supplies, all of which lent support in a time of great strife.

We are tough. We pull together.

Our strength is in numbers and our commitment to one another demonstrates the true character of the people of Amsterdam. 2011 was a banner year for volunteerism in our city. Not only did we host several successful events including National Night Out and the Main Street Winter Mixer, but we also geared our efforts towards community beautification with litter clean-ups, graffiti paint-outs, murals, plantings and gardens, all of which have had a positive effect in reshaping our image. We offered free concerts over the summer at Riverlink Park and Hero-Beechnut sponsored swimming lessons for 125 young children at Veteran’s Field swimming pool. Additionally, Spring Fling sought to highlight the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame’s Induction ceremonies while promoting commercial space in our Downtown area. This much-celebrated occasion brought 3000 people to Main Street. All of these initiatives were provided at no cost to our taxpayers.

While community-initiated efforts have begun to transform our image, we have also taken a more direct and professional approach to marketing our community. This year, those efforts were recognized by Empire State Development as “best in class” for website design and collateral printed materials. We were able to augment our presence with videos produced by Amsterdam High School students that are broadcast over the Internet and continue to garner attention.

In these tough times we have decided who we are and who we choose to be. We must embrace change and understand the opportunities it presents. We are a community of many cultures, and must be welcoming to those that wish to make Amsterdam their new home. Recently, Chinese immigrants have purchased 40 properties. They have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in materials, taxes, fees and labor, with the intention of bringing many more friends and families to our community. The investment made by these individuals will be transformative.

The coming year invites a host of exciting prospects, even those that will be difficult to surmount. We are faced with the imposition of a 2% cap on property taxes that will force us to be both brave and creative. Upon entering into the new budget season, we must have a complete and accurate accounting from our new Controller of all revenues, expenditures, departmental budgets, fund balance and debt.

These difficult economic times demand that we break new ground and create new relationships. We must meet our challenges with civility and measured thought as we reach out to our partners at the county, regional and state levels to find solutions. We must function as a regional participant to share funding sources, labor and equipment to adequately provide for the future.

Traditionally we have only thought to reach out to the County Board of Supervisors as partners. While we may certainly engage with the County in a number of cost saving initiatives, including records management, energy conservation, joint purchasing and cross-agency transportation options, we must establish new relationships with surrounding municipalities in the Capital District and Greater Mohawk Valley. We’ve seen evidence of this successful approach with the recent awards to the Regional Economic Development Councils. By establishing a commitment to collaboration we will increase the likelihood of securing necessary resources to realize economic growth.

This commitment must extend to the political parties that have traditionally been drawn to stances that are dramatically polarized. Our problems are universal. It is time to put political agendas aside, to identify commonalities in our positions, to rally people and resources, and solve the problems that we are charged to overcome. To this end, I have invited the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic City and County Committees, as well as the members of the Common Council, to assist me in this pursuit. This may be tough to do, but it’s time for the factions to move past their differences.

Tough times dictate that we create a network of like-minded communities. We have established a dialogue using the State’s regional model to explore avenues such as land banking, the continued expansion of water and sewer infrastructure for residential and commercial development, as well as long-range planning and investment in waterfront development and downtown revitalization. This dialogue also includes a proposal to relocate state offices to our city, which identifies us as a community worthy of investment. We are creating a new dynamic and have pride in the fact that several industries in our city have seen significant growth over the past year. Breton Industries, NTI Global, FGI and Mohawk Fabrics have all undergone expansion of their facilities resulting in more jobs and investment in our community.

We are going to continue to succeed in tough times. Over the coming construction season we will progress water distribution improvements on Market Street Hill. We will identify and remediate storm and sewer cross-connections around the city and we will implement the new traffic patterns to route visitors back to our downtown. We will install a new memorial at Riverlink Park to honor those lost on 9/11, roads will be resurfaced, valves and hydrants will be strategically replaced and we will complete the demolition of the Chalmers property.

We must also turn our attention to the Esquire property at the Mohasco site. On account of its advanced state of deterioration, the building has been found unsafe and requires demolition. The site must serve as a key driver for revitalization of that district. This coincides with other active projects targeting neighborhood revitalization on the East End, Reid Hill, waterfront heritage area and along the Chuctanunda Creek. As well, we are partnering with the Amsterdam Urban Renewal Agency, Montgomery County Habitat for Humanity and the Amsterdam Homeless Project to provide opportunities to those most in need during tough economic times.

We continue our fight to keep our residents safe despite economic stressors. Our neighborhood watch groups have been instrumental in bridging a relationship between the community and law enforcement. Awareness within the neighborhoods has netted arrests for drug and other non-violent offenses as officers utilize the information provided by the watch groups to enhance public safety. Thanks to these efforts, Amsterdam remains one of the safest communities in the Capital District.

It is during tough times that we need to be the most optimistic and hopeful. I am reminded each day that I am surrounded by a highly qualified and talented team who come to work each day impacted by limited resources and staffing, yet together we find the resolve to shoulder our responsibilities to those of you who pay our salaries. I want to thank these good people, our employees, on behalf of the residents of this community for the fine job that they do. When times are hard, they work harder.

These tough economic times cannot be used as an excuse to pull back or avoid progress. It’s a mistake we have made too frequently in the past. In this regard, we must address inadequacies in staffing that negatively impact city operations. These shortcomings limit our opportunities to generate revenue and address issues of great concern to our citizens. The condition of blighted properties is perhaps the most often-cited complaint heard in my office, on the radio, or on the Internet. We must strengthen our codes department by adding an additional inspector, even if the position is part-time, to manage health and safety matters. As well, we need additional seasonal help to cut grass and pick up garbage when property maintenance is an issue. In 2010, the year before the flood, we cleaned 210 properties, generating 351 full dump trucks of debris. Of course this past year, much of the efforts of these four men went to cleaning up after the disaster.

If we are to grow our tax base, we should again look to refunding the Community and Economic Development Department. While several development agencies exist, there is no organization that can fill the void created by the absence of this entity. We need this department to muscle comprehensive planning which includes revamping the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, Brownfield programs, the zoning rewrite, neighborhood and downtown revitalization; to coordinate community events and activities; to oversee property disposition and grants in a coordinated fashion; to coordinate activity between departments, state, county and development organizations; to assist struggling not-for-profits; to update the website; and to proactively research and propose new incentives for development and growth.

We cannot let naysayers and negativism determine our fate. We’ve been through floods, a hurricane and a global economic downturn and we are still here. We are small, tough and determined. I am reminded of a short quote by Thomas Buxton, “With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable.“ In every sense of the word, our community has been heroic in its perseverance. To those of you in our community that taken up the load when times are tough, that have reached out to your friends and neighbors with the offer of help, that love this community for what it has been, for what it is and for what it will be, I thank you for your commitment.

We are going to make it. We will be galvanized by our experiences; we will be better; we will be stronger.

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Demolitions have begun around the city. We’ve collaborated with county crews to demo properties that no longer serve their purpose as shelter. Three properties have been cleared, seven remediated of asbestos and toxins, and twenty-seven more are slated for the crane this season.

The following photos show the process from start to finish at a property on Hamilton Street. The event was compelling – violent, methodical, and poignant all at once.

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