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Spring Fling 2012: Click HERE!

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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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Letter to Montgomery County Republican Committee Chairman Joe Emanuele, Montgomery County Democratic Committee Chairman Bethany Schumann-McGhee, City of Amsterdam Republican Committee Chairman Vito “Butch” Greco, and Montgomery County Democratic Committee Secretary Thom Georgia

Dear Joe, Bethany, Vito, and Thom,

Thank you for generously spending time to discuss global topics of concern related to our community. Those that look to you for leadership should note your courage and sincere good will in pioneering this endeavor.

Briefly, we touched on the following points:

1. This was a meeting of party leadership to discuss global, non-political issues and initiatives that both parties may support. It had never been our intent to overstep the authority of elected officials by dictating policy or manipulating budgets.

2. Problems faced by our communities are common to all of us as residents of the city. We are interested in identifying areas in which the parties may provide collaborative solutions, even if they are very basic in nature, that are beneficial to our taxpayers.

3. We spoke broadly about: obstacles and issues that hinder effective and efficient government; communication between the city and county; jointly advocating for state initiatives that may be beneficial to our residents; and the willingness of party leadership to provide guidance across party lines to any elected official when called upon.

4. We agreed that government benefits when intelligent, committed individuals with pertinent qualifications and experience become involved at either an elected or appointed level, regardless of political affiliation. To that end, each party chairman will provide the Mayor with the names of recommended candidates to fill vacancies on city boards and committees.

All in all, this was a very positive first step in fostering a new air of diplomacy in our city. This is vitally important to reshaping our identity in the region and will strengthen the faith our residents have in government. On behalf of the people of Amsterdam, I appreciate your cooperation in this dialogue and look forward to future opportunities to share thoughts and concerns.

Sincerely,
Mayor Ann M. Thane

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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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We’re set to go again! Join us downtown on Friday, December 16th for Santa’s visit, music, food, fun and fellowship. I’ll update as details become available.

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Thank you to all of the good people that helped me, supported me, and spirited me through this difficult process.

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Veteran’s Day Remembrance Ceremony 11.11.2011

Thank you to all of you that have joined us today to stand in legion with individuals that have served us so well.

It is fitting that on this day, the clouds move with a swift wind and stir in us a solemnity that is befitting of this occasion. It is fitting that we are moved by the actions of men and women that have chosen to give so freely and completely of their lives to serve this country we all love. They gave their youth, their talent, their intellect and souls to defend our freedoms and to promote justice and democracy around our world.

And unlike the many good soldiers, having made the ultimate sacrifice, whose names are memorialized on monuments like this one across the country, these men and women – our veterans – have survived incredibly difficult circumstances; long, arduous trips away from home and families and all that they hold dear; grueling physical conditions, frightening conflicts, sometimes boredom, sadness or loneliness, and often great loss and heartache.

They left fresh from our football fields, our basketball courts, our check out counters and our dining room tables, wet behind the ears, to pursue not only a career, but also a cause that is noble and brave. They are the intricate pieces that have unified to become the greatest military force in the world, dependent on each other for solace and strength. These boys and girls have served with commitment and pride and have returned to us as men and women that have met adversity with courage, and sacrifice with honor. They have returned to us true patriots – having conducted themselves with discipline, power and dignity. Our veterans are deserving of this day that honors them for the gift of freedom we have all been given.

We face continuing threats against our nation – against our collective and individual safety and security. As these threats evolve, so does our capacity to identify, prevent, and respond to such threats, and as such, we must recognize that those that place themselves in peril, and those that have stood against these evils in the past, deserve our complete support. While ribbons, pins and flags are symbolic of our appreciation for our nation’s heroes, and I am honored to be able to recognize some of our veterans here today with a medal, let us actively participate in helping our veterans by donating essential resources and volunteering time to local charities that are supportive of veteran’s causes and their families. We must insist that our government adequately supply much needed services to those that have returned home from service, sometimes broken physically, and sometimes spiritually as well. Lastly, let us all offer on a daily basis a silent prayer or in a way that is as small as a handshake or a smile of thanks, recognition for what our military has done for us.

In parting, I want to express my appreciation on behalf of our city to the Honor Guard, members of our various veteran organizations present today, and the many, many veterans, past and present, which have served in the military with devotion and courage. I am humbled to stand with you, both men and women that have been willing to sacrifice so much for this community and our Country. Thank you especially to the Veteran’s Commission for your tireless commitment to our nation’s heroes and your work to represent and protect our city’s veterans. I once again encourage all that are gathered here today also to contribute to the new memorial that will be constructed at Veterans Field in recognition of every man and woman hailing from the City of Amsterdam that has served in our armed forces. Please call Richard Leggiero (843-0808) for more information.

Again, thank you, to all of you that are veterans

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Much has been made of the recent campaign mailing from my opponent’s camp. In this case, the offenders feign innocence and the local media moves on.

It is what it is.

Copyright issues aside, I am baffled by the claim that Joe Emanuele is paying for his materials, when his NYS Board of Elections Campaign Finance Reports do not show this activity or the resources to produce them. His campaign manager tells us the committee to elect Joe paid for them and they only used the NYRSC return address for a better postal rate. There is no claim to support this activity on the NYRSC report, though they show contributions to races around the state. How can this be so? What gives? or who? and why?

Before the primary, I mailed out an 8.5″ x 11″, full-color card much like those now being delivered to households in Amsterdam every other day. The mailer cost me $3,234.77 for design, printing, and postage. We sent this card to Democratic voters in the city. The Emanuele pieces are evidently being mailed to Republican voters, but the numbers of cards being sent must be relatively close in number, so that I’d wager the cost is as well. To date, we’ve received four mailings at my house and I figure they must run around $3,000 a pop. Since August, the Emanuele coffers have hovered between $4,200 and $5,200, with small expenditures listed for literature: postcards, magnets, stamps… nothing over $210.00. My question becomes, how was the approximate $12,000 disbursement for mailed campaign material (and I dare say, there will be more) paid for?

As well, I notice when driving around our city a plethora of Emanuele signs of all sizes and materials. I purchased 250 signs for $1,438 and, once 70 or 80 of them went missing, reordered another 100 for $672. Mr. Emanuele shows no expenditure for signs, though he does show an expenditure of $108 for stakes. Research shows the Montgomery County Republican Committee paid $486 for Emanuele signs. To my mind, this just doesn’t add up, even without a math degree.

Take a look for yourself: Campaign Finance Reports. What do you think? While you’re there, check out your candidates for Aldermen. It’s fascinating who has reported and who has not, especially if you are paying attention to signs in the first ward.

Where’s all of this money coming from? How come it is not being reported, even as in-kind donations? Why isn’t the lack of reporting being reported? Doesn’t this matter when my opponent has made integrity an issue in this campaign?

www.mayorthane.com

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I’ve listened with a mixture of patience and fury to misinformation circulating for quite some time, but now that the election is upon us, it’s time to set the record straight. The fund balance has not suffered from gross misuse of funds. We have not been spending wildly for four years, and in fact, I’ve never exceeded my departmental budget or overspent what had been budgeted for city hall repairs. We’ve been very careful with your money and have, in fact, grown our sources of revenue.

Fund balance fallacy
My opponent states that he left the city flush with a $3M fund balance. The actual calculation was closer to $2.7M, but that was also incorrect. During my first year in office, the Controller informed the council of a $500,000 error, as she had failed to budget for MVP premiums. This came after the budget committee had already allocated funds to maintain a flat tax rate at budget time. So, from the get-go, we had started with much less in the coffers than we had anticipated.

Couple this scenario with an $800,000 shortfall that had been decades in the making and not discovered until the sale of foreclosed-on properties last year. Reserves had not been adequately set aside for uncollectible taxes (when a tax bill goes out, it is considered paid whether it is collected or not. It is necessary to budget reserve funds to offset this loss. This had not been done for many, many years.)

Toss in the $300,000 reduction in state aid, sales tax, and mortgage tax and we find ourselves where we are today. These losses would have occurred regardless of whom was in office.

My tax and rate increases were less than those of my opponent’s.
Over four years, my opponent increased city taxes 9.37% and water/sewer/sanitation fees a whopping 24.58%. This compares to a 6.91% increase in city taxes during my four years and 8.19% increase in fees. Obviously, my opponent doesn’t acknowledge this record when telling us he is going to protect us in the future (in fact, his record is never mentioned at all, nor a plan as to HOW he plans to protect us in the future. Personally, I find that troublesome.)

Truth: monumental budgetary successes over four years.
In my first two years of office, there were no tax increases. Money was appropriated to keep taxes stable and provide for legitimate operational services. In years three and four, excluding debt, we stayed within the 3% cap.

We’ve gone on to harness over $1 million dollars in new revenues that will add to our budget every year from agreements with Beechnut, GAVAC, the County for sales tax redistribution, and the towns for water. We’ve realized real savings by reining in discretionary overtime, renegotiating labor contracts and switching insurance carriers. We’ve shaved thousands off of our lean budget and are running departments more efficiently.

We’ve been tremendously successful in securing over $20 million dollars in grants for everything from infrastructure and neighborhood revitalization to recreational enhancements and marketing (most of our marketing materials were produced with the $40K in grants I received in my first year of service.) Beyond funding, you cannot discount the value of the time, effort and donations of our volunteers that supplied us with flowers for Church Street (FREE), videos (FREE), events such as Spring Fling and National Night Out (FREE), city-wide litter pick-ups (FREE), neighborhood watch (FREE), and murals (FREE).

I’m proud of the performance of my administration. Running the city has been a full-time, passionate commitment for me. I’m proud that I have more to reference than tired slogans and empty words. We deserve better and should expect better. I will always try to live up to that expectation.

www.mayorthane.com

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Letter to Commissioner Rose Harvey 8-31-11

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Click here: www.mayorthane.com

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There is something gracefully metaphorical about what’s happening in the Rose Garden at City Hall. Two years ago, this was a forgotten, overgrown mass of vines, saplings and crumbling walls. The panoramic view to the south was obscured and that side of the building was rarely visited by even the most avid of history buffs.

A year ago, almost to the day, loads of topsoil were delivered and we began planting the much-maligned rose garden. Naysayers decried the project as a wildly hedonistic, unnecessary expense, even though the foundation walls to the basement and retaining walls showed signs of considerable damage, cracking and collapse. We ignored the naysayers. We made repairs and improvements from budgeted funds for City Hall property maintenance.

The naysayers roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes! Surely, this project could only be viewed as insanely irresponsible! What silly fluffiness! “Shutter the place and sell it!” became the daily AM mantra.

God paid no mind. Seeds took root and flowers bloomed, several times in fact and far into the Fall.

This summer, a small band of determined volunteers continues to change the course of our demise. Betty Clough, Debbie Baranello and Karin Hetrick returned to work their magic with gloves, shovels, sweat and muscle. Ed Schyuler and Nick Zabawsky donated perennial plants to augment the already beautiful flora with specimens that will flower from early Spring until late Fall. The staircases that flank each end of the garden have been masterfully cleared of vegetation, dirt and fallen debris, unearthing a heritage in slate and brick that is amazingly preserved and artistic.

The pièce de résistance to this reclamation will be the mural being painted on the basement foundation wall. Where bricks have fallen away, a trompe l’oeil Tuscan landscape will vanish into a perpetually dreamlike distance. Methinks there is no room for naysayers there.

The slow, evolution of this broken bit of history into lovely, inviting public space is emblematic of what is happening across the city. The steps are small and incremental, but we are walking back out of the woods. Bridge Street is taking shape, Riverlink Park is expanding, water and road projects are remedying years of decay, the water filtration plant and waste water treatment plant updates are nearing completion and volunteer groups across the city are undertaking beautification projects in every city ward.

Bottom line: the sun will rise again. The garden(s) will grow. There is hope.

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I just stumbled on the following video posted on youtube. The was produced by Saratoga Associates for the public hearings held last Fall. It presents three different visualizations of the future pedestrian bridge, as well as the new Bridge Street and Riverlink Park.

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For those of you that haven’t visited our beautiful Riverlink Park, you are missing one of Amsterdam’s greatest assets. There are fantastic vistas up and down the river, the cafe is stellar, there are concerts planned for Saturday nights throughout the season, and the park is carefully manicured by an attendant every day. Boats have begun mooring at the docks, sometimes as many as six to eight at a pop, and flowers adorn the gardens and urns along the walkways.

As summer swings into full regalia, we are swinging full-force into completing construction of the second phase of the park. Additional walking paths, decorative lighting, new plantings, and benches will extend all of the way to RT30 bridge. The playground will be relocated and a 12′ x 35′ recreation of the “Painted Rocks”, a significant piece of Amsterdam’s Native American Heritage, will be brought to life on site by internationally-renowned artist, Alice Manzi.

It’s bound to be a facinating time at the park, as we take another step toward realizing the dream of a fully-revitalized waterfront. The following photos document the park in its current state and the beginning of construction.

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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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Reconstruction is coming along on Bridge Street. There’s plenty of work to do until the resurfacing happens; substructure work includes new catch basins, manholes, sewer lines and water laterals, as well as placement of light pole bases. This will all happen pretty quickly as Tallum Construction machinery travels up and down the road from the staging site by the river.

Though this construction phase may seem tedious to those that frequent the area, the preliminary work necessary to bring this to life had been amazingly time-consuming and complex. There were countless steps, from surveying, designing, permitting, double checking, confirming, notifiying, approving, bidding, and purchasing to coordinating between state, city, utility companies, residents and business owners. It has taken almost two years since the designs were first delivered to us. I’m relieved to see the street in the apparent disarray it’s in, because it means that in just about a month, the project will be done!

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Thanks for stopping by.

Please click on the following link:
Campaign handout 6.13.11

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The New York State Economic Development Council (NYSEDC) has awarded the City of Amsterdam “Best of Class” for its printed promotional materials, as well as “Best in Class” for the city website, in its 2011 Marketing and Promotional Materials Competition.

Awarded each year at its annual meeting in May, NYSEDC judged the entries on layout and design, content, and marketing budget size. Categories for the competition included: Development Brochure, Printed Advertising Materials, Multi-Media Advertising, Web Site and Newsletters/Annual Reports, with awards given for Best
of Class, Excellent, and Honorable Mention.

The city’s presentation folder contains one colorful, generic brochure that gives an overview of the city’s best attributes, customizable inserts that describe development incentives in greater detail, specific property sell sheets and success stories of businesses that have chosen Amsterdam as a prime location to grow. The website, designed by Amsterdam-based Engines of Creation and written by former Confidential Aid Thom Georgia, is a comprehensive informational and promotional tool that gets as many as 5,000 visitors a month and has attracted the attention of 65,877 new and unique visitors since its implementation in 2009.

“We are extremely proud of this recognition,” stated Mayor Ann M. Thane. “This is especially meaningful because the marketing competition is juried by professionals in the field of economic development and shows that Amsterdam is doing a quality job. The importance of a well thought out marketing strategy to our community cannot be underestimated. We remain committed to promoting the City of Amsterdam as welcoming, accessible, and affordable for relocating families and businesses.”

The New York State Economic Development Council is New York’s principal organization representing economic development professionals. Its 900 members include the leaders of IDAs, local development corporations, commercial and investment banks, underwriters, bond counsels, utilities, chambers of commerce and private corporations. NYSEDC’s mission is promoting economic development, encouraging sound regional development practices, and conducting professional education programs for its members.

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Thank you so much to the Veteran’s Commission for organizing this event again, as you do every year. Amsterdam is grateful for the work you do on behalf of the Veterans of our community year round – from the careful tending of our monuments to continuous advocacy on behalf of those that have served our country so well.

The globe has spun one more time around the sun and God has provided us another late-Spring day to gather together, as community and as family. The dogwood and azaleas are blooming, phlox dance amongst the tall grasses in the fields, the trees have greened with the hope of budding leaves, and the American flag drifts lightly with each haunting breeze. Note that the air is laden with a dense closeness in the atmosphere. It is heavy with tears for our loss. It is as if this saturated air bears the weight of our communal heart, because each name etched into a memorial wall or granite stone, each bed left unfilled, each boy or girl that was lost, and each heart that was broken is shared by us all as family. We are touched by each individual passing, because we are have sent our finest into battle and they will not return to taste the promise of our future.

This is a loss that passes down through time.

The Memorial Day tradition was started 145 years ago in Waterloo, NY, when residents gathered to mourn those that had died in the bloody conflict known as the Civil War. Then called Grave Decoration Day, the entire village was draped in evergreen and black streamers. Women wept inconsolably as marching veterans lead a procession of grief to each of the three village cemeteries. The intensity of that grief has lingered with the weathered gravestones, passes through time, and mingles with the terrible price we paid in World War I and World War II, in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. We continue to pay in lives today around the world. We must not forget this sacrifice. We must not forget those fallen or the suffering of their families. And we must mourn for our loss, for history has been changed by war, and though we have managed to go on, violence has silenced brave, unique and loving voices. Each individual loss splintered through families, neighborhoods, states and our nation. Generations have been irrevocably altered like the sides of mountains quarried for stone.

This is clearly illustrated by the story of Sgt. First Class Paul Ray Smith, who at age 33 died in a sudden storm of Iraqi fire while protecting his men. Sgt. Smith jumped on a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on an abandoned truck and fired at three Iraqi positions, while single-handedly providing cover so his outnumbered soldiers could escape. 100 men made it to safety. In a moment that was both heroic and horrific, Smith was shot in the neck and killed. Just hours before his death, he penned the following letter to his mother, “As I sit here getting ready to go to war once again, I realize that I have left some things left unsaid. I love you and I don’t want you to worry. …There are two ways to come home: stepping off the plane, and being carried off the plane. It doesn’t matter how I come home, because I am prepared to give all that I am, to insure that all my boys make it home.

The courage shown in that letter is at once unbearable and is all that his family, and we, must cling to. Though Sgt. Smith has been posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, he will never walk his daughter down the aisle, or teach his son to shave, or hold a grandchild on his knee. And his family’s heart has broken.

This nation has lost hundreds of thousands of like souls through the ages and we must never forget that they gave everything so that we would live our lives to the fullest. We must never forget that these individuals, with lives to realize and loves that were timeless, died as soldiers fighting for the principles that make our country great… liberty, honor, valor, commitment, and selfless service to others.

I say to you again that we must remember that what we honor are not faceless names. These were the faithful husbands, sisters, nephews, fathers, sons, neighbors and friends, most barely out of school, barely kissed, that had gone off from so many different circumstances to meet a common end, all in service to us.

The enormity of our loss is too important to blithely pass by. Our city and country have lost more than we can know. What we have lost can never be regained… the glances, the gentle touches, smiles, children, comedy, commerce, creativity, ingenuity, determination and love.

Love, most of all.

We must understand this loss with the constricted heart of someone receiving first word that their boy will never return… the agony of a mother that will never hold her child again, a father that will not pass on the keys to the business or applaud at a graduation, a child that will not remember a parent’s laugh by the time they are ten. We must be breathless in our knowing. We must know the full weight of silence.

And yet, we must know gratitude. For God has granted us not only those that have given their lives for our peace and prosperity, but a community that honors our dead, and veterans that continue to dutifully care for the memories of our fallen heroes.

These veterans are the living embodiment of Amsterdam’s service to the defense of liberty and the nation, representatives who served in all the wars of living memory. They stand here, not just in their own right, but also for all those who cannot.

Among them you can read the depth and breath of Amsterdam’s contributions: in one case not only as father and son, but as a marine who served at the Battle of Saipan in World War II, and his son, the naval officer who served half a century later on the USS Saipan, named in honor of the valor and sacrifice of those who fought at Saipan, including Company G from the Armory. We will honor these men and others that had served so proudly by awarding them the Amsterdam Veteran Service Medal. To these veteran men and women, we owe our continued thanks and support.

Lastly, to those that proudly wear our uniform and honor our flag around the world today, we owe our praise and deepest appreciation. To those many fine soldiers, we all pray, come back to us safely in God’s hands.

And now, in our stillness and our reverie, during the arresting 24 notes of the bugle call of “Taps”, let us recall all that we have lost and all that we hold dear and gather closer as a community in our love, in our pain, and in our gratitude.

Amen.

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