December 15, 2017

Campaign Priorities

Local journalist Rick Morrison posed this question to my opponent and me:

“This question is ONLY for Ann M. Thane and Michael Villa. What will be the top 3 priorities for your mayoral administration?

You have both been challenged! What say you! Comments from others will be erased. (Specific) Answers Please.”

Mr. Villa indicates that he is data gathering, that he does not debate online (?) and that his fundraiser is message one. This is my response:

Dear Rick:

It seems to me that you asked Mr. Villa and me to list our priorities, not to debate.

My priorities are as follows:

1. Financial stability/accountability, 2. Economic Development,
and 3. Quality of Life.

Much of the success of this administration falls under these broad themes and our work in the coming years will continue along these lines. The following list is not all-inclusive but I hope the readers get a sense of the scope of work I propose.

FINANCIAL STABILITY
and ACCOUNTABILITY:
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• Craft a fiscally conservative budget that sustains operations and invests in improved performance. Make sure every dollar spent is necessary and effectively allocated.
• Continue the implementation of the 2014 Corrective Action Plan scripted by the Controller, Corporation Counsel, the former Council and I. Ensure that resources are allocated to the Department of Finance to adequately track, reconcile and report all financial transactions.
• Pursue grants to augment the $27M in funding for capital improvements, equipment and transformative projects that we have received over the past seven years.
• Share services creatively: I offered a list of 34 initiatives to the County that can benefit us by cutting costs, increasing efficiencies and, sometimes, produce much-needed revenue.
• Explore new services that will generate revenue to offset property taxes.

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:
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• Expand water distribution to surrounding municipalities.
• Expand the Edson Street Industrial Park.
• Continue the redevelopment of our waterfront and downtown areas. Relocate trains station to urban core: create multi-modal transportation hub with commercial and banquet space.
• Repurpose industrial sites into multi-use commercial spaces, low tech incubators, or residential units.
• Continue to nurture partnerships with economic development entities (MCBDC, AIDA, CEDD, URA, CEG), our regional development partners on the MVREDC (I serve on the executive committee), state agencies and surrounding municipalities (our relationship with Schenectady is flourishing.)
• Capitalize on our location along the Thruway, Rail and River. The year 2017 will mark the 200th Anniversary of the Erie Canalway which will be an ideal time to showcase the new Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook.
• Build the Recreation Center to attract visitors from across the Northeast.
• Revamp our promotional materials and website to publicize opportunities in our community.

QUALITY OF LIFE:
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• Continue strategic infrastructure improvements (roads, water/sewer/storm distribution systems). Allocate necessary resources to our newly created Landbank.
• Fight blight through code enforcement, demolition, and targeted neighborhood revitalization strategies. Share code enforcement information and best practices with surrounding municipalities via the new software module we are creating with CTG and neighboring cities.
• Grow citizen engagement programs, e.g. neighborhood watch/beautification efforts, community gardens, citywide clean ups, etc.
• Support public safety departments adequately.
• Continue to offer recreational opportunities to youth and families at the Bacon Recreation Center and Creative Connections Arts Center, e.g. summer camps, free swimming lessons and transportation to city pool, after-school tutoring, sports tournaments, 4H club memberships, public arts projects, etc.
• Grow citywide celebratory events such as Spring Fling, National Night Out and Homecoming.
• Provide continued support for the downtown merchants, Amsterdam Waterfront Foundation, Library, Inman Center and the new Farmers’ Market.
• Continue to foster partnerships with the GASD, FMCC, SMH, W1shfu1Th1nk1ng, Centro Civico, churches and other not-for-profits to nurture body, mind and spirit.
• Continue to improve our municipal golf course, parks, playgrounds and monuments.
• Continue to promote historic preservation of our heritage properties.
• Re-engage community in master planning.

Again, there’s much more to this than I have listed here, but carving out a vibrant future for our city demands great thought, budgeting, planning and many, many hands.

One would think that, given the complexity of this job and extreme needs of this city, any candidate would have given considerable thought to priorities before announcing a run for office.

It’s been four and a half months since Mr. Villa announced. He hasn’t come up with any priorities in all of this time? THAT fact speaks for itself.

My motto:
“Be content to act, and leave the talking to others.”
~ Baltasar Gracián, translated from Spanish

State of the City 2014

STATE OF THE CITY
Mayor Ann M. Thane • February 4, 2014

In drafting this State of the City address, I am reminded that anything we want that is good and strong and worthwhile is hard to attain, especially if it entails change. It is slow in coming and resisted by the fearful and the deceptive. It must be hard-fought for and requires every ounce of determination. I am here to report that we are making steady strides in this battle and we cannot let up the fight.

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To be healthy, an individual must exercise and eat well, make good choices when it comes to work or savings, and support one’s spirit with rewarding friendships and activities that nourish the soul.

As a community, we must be equally mindful of our health. Our measures are many, and though we struggle, we may gauge our resilience in the successes we’ve made to address the problems faced by this aging, upstate city. I am proud to again cite the action we’ve taken to allay the injury time has wrought on the City of Amsterdam.

PRIORITY ONE: FINANCIAL HEALTH

No one can deny that the city is grappling with the results of years of poor management in the Controller’s Office. At the urging of past Controller Ron Wierzbicki, the state was invited in to review the city’s financial condition that ended in a scathing report, deriding the record keeping practices of the department. For years, bank accounts and the general ledger had not been properly reconciled, entries were made incorrectly, and capital projects had not been properly tracked. Though this finding is damning, it came as no surprise to this administration or the prior council that had already begun to take steps toward managing this crisis.

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Early in 2013, the prior Council added the position of Deputy Controller to strengthen the department and ensure that there will be continuity and expertise outside of the election cycle. Mr. David Mitchell was hired for his lengthy experience in dealing with troubled institutions and his ability to bring organization to floundering accounting systems. We have been well served by this appointment. He has deftly begun the laborious task of untangling the mess he found and has instituted new procedures to alleviate years of questionable practices. He was able to close out the books for 2011/12, submitted a long-overdue Annual Update Document (AUD) and completed a single audit, which in turn protected several hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants.

The prior Council contracted with two accounting firms to go back through our records, correct errors and reconcile all operational and capital accounts. This will ensure that our numbers are firm going forward. New Controller Matthew Agresta will revise and resubmit the Annual Update Document once more solid numbers are presented in an attempt to protect our favorable S&P and Moody’s ratings.

As recommended by the State, the prior Council and I drafted an initial corrective action plan that will be finalized and submitted to the Office of the State Comptroller showing our plans to protect the city from problems of this nature in the future. Staff and the new Council will be given training in municipal finance and utilization of our new accounting software. Written policies and procedures will be developed and implemented, and the Council will receive the accurate data it needs to make informed decisions about city operations.

The current Council will be responsible for developing a long-range financial plan, an action that is both prudent and timely. Though this entire process has been arduous, the resulting certainty will be well worth the pain. I remain optimistic that we are in better stead financially than has been predicted on some fronts.

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As the budget season approaches, a keen focus on performance and accountability will serve us well. The Governor’s proposed freeze on revenues will apply tremendous pressure on our community, which already labors to provide necessary services to our residents. This will require us to be quite creative in finding new ways to sustain our city. Strict fiscal oversight in every aspect of city government is demanded in this time of stress; no facility or contract will escape this scrutiny. Nor can we pretend to address our fiscal constraints by questioning small expenditures that are inconsequential to our tax burden. We must look to departments that are underperforming with the realization that hard choices may have to be made. We cannot put special interests before those of our taxpayers. We must fastidiously re-examine the workings of each department and enterprise fund without prejudice, as well as target areas of spending that have historically saved us money for additional cost cutting or revenues, as in health insurance costs or pensions. We will engage the surrounding municipalities to increase efficiencies and craft new avenues for the profit of all.

PRIORITY TWO: REGIONAL HEALTH
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Our growing partnership with the City of Schenectady is one that offers substantial reward. Our cities have both suffered the post-industrial decline encountered by all communities in the rust belt. Neighborhoods that surrounded bustling factories now circle crumbling behemoths of another era. Working family homes have slipped into disrepair and associated misfortunes have taken root: crime, litter, vandalism and fire have become realities that drain our coffers and esteem. So, it has been with great pride and enthusiasm that we have begun to work together to solve some of these long-standing problems.

A single distressed property will consume $109,000 in direct and indirect costs in a cycle that runs from deterioration to demolition. Multiply this cost by the number of affected properties in each city and the total is staggering. If all 735 properties now identified in various stages of decline in the city of Amsterdam progress fully to demolition, the cost to our taxpayers is $80,115,000. Schenectady’s 2,420 now distressed properties amount to a mind numbing $263,780,000. When we think of this cost infecting every aging city, town and village in the State, as we know it does, we see a situation that cries out for immediate remedy.
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The key to reducing these losses to the tax base is to divert properties away from or out of the system as soon as possible. We are addressing this in two ways:

First, our cities and the County of Schenectady have formed one of five state designated “land banks” to proactively mitigate the costs of blighted properties through neighborhood planning, rehabilitation or demolition, and investment. The goal is to improve property values within the land bank area. The resulting decreases in delinquent taxes and emergency response costs will benefit our cities financially as well as improve quality of life for residents in those areas where abandonment is successfully reversed.

Second, the two cities have banded together with the Center for Technology and Growth (CTG) to develop a uniform code enforcement software module that will digitally track code enforcement violations. Currently, every municipality in the State uses its own forms, manual procedures and unique policies for code enforcement and the state legislature is blind to the impact this problem has on the bottom line.
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No one can dispute that sharing information on arson, domestic violence, DWI, and other fire and police concerns is beneficial. Improved code enforcement reporting and information sharing will reduce the incidence of distressed properties and associated costs. Standard forms and procedures will facilitate sharing of data across municipal boundaries to protect banks from mortgage fraud, neighborhoods from the assault that blight delivers, and taxpayers from carrying the burden of lost prospects.

State legislators will be able to plainly see the astronomical costs associated with blight and act accordingly. The collected information will allow us to establish a basis for state code enforcement action and uniform urban policy making. For example, we may develop a state property owner ID system that will help identify absentee landlords shielded from prosecution through LLC’s.

This is exactly the kind innovative approach to fiscal stress that our Governor has called for. Our initiative will provide substantial and quantifiable taxpayer relief through shared service, government efficiency and economic development. I am very grateful to Mayor Gary McCarthy for allowing us to partner in this effort.
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This administration has an unambiguous record of collaborating with several municipal counterparts to benefit city residents. From water and revenue sharing agreements with the Towns of Amsterdam and Florida to sharing the costs of workman’s comp, energy purchasing, demolition and solid waste disposal with the County, the city has capitalized on its available resources and has been able to leverage them for the good of our people. We’ve realized millions of dollars in new revenues over the past few years and more fairly distributed the cost of our water and sewer distribution systems.

Times of crisis often call out necessary qualities of ingenuity and devotion. Because of this, we should understand the significance of this time for our state and city and treasure its gifts.

Through the Governor’s NY Rising and Hazard Mitigation programs, we’ve worked with surrounding municipalities for a full recovery from the devastating storms of 2011 and 2013. We are forging plans to alleviate the risk of flood that are linked to our economic development efforts. One of the greatest achievements in this process will be the consolidation of all city, school and county strategic plans into one comprehensive document that will allow for even greater cooperation between the various governments.
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Our partnering efforts have also played out in a regional sense. Amsterdam is a member of the six-county Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council (MVREDC). This year, our region was chosen as a top performer and awarded over $82M in grants and incentives to spur development. Our city scored well in this round, as we had in the past outside of the council’s activity, securing $12,219,000 in grants over six years for growing industries, waterfront revitalization, economic development, marketing, public works and infrastructure improvements.

In anticipation of this year’s round of competitive funding through the regional economic development council, I have called on representatives from the Counties of Fulton and Montgomery, Fulton Montgomery Community College, and various economic development agencies to identify projects in the public and private sectors that will create jobs and foster renewal for our constituencies.
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The City will continue to establish and grow these valuable relationships, locally and abroad. There are marvelous people and organizations engaged in transformative work across the state, in community colleges and universities, Chambers of Commerce, not-for-profits and in business. My involvement with the New York Conference of Mayors and the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission allows me access me to ideas, best practices and networks that I am anxious to bring to our city.

PRIORITY THREE: TANGIBLE HEALTH

The improvements we’ve made to the infrastructure in our community is of particular pride to this administration. We may point to the close of another year of intense construction bringing us a new traffic pattern downtown and marked rehabilitation of our water and sewer systems.
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Through steady effort, we have replaced water lines and valves, and are now down to a mere six out-of-order hydrants out of over a thousand, a stark contrast to the dozens we inherited with lines that ran dry during tragic fires on Market Street Hill in 2008. We have been systematically identifying areas where storm water and sewer lines connect and have been able to avoid hefty fines from the Department of Environmental Conservation because of our systematic method in dealing with these problems.

The traffic-repatterning project was a long time in the making, having been identified as a goal in our comprehensive plan of 2004. Though many decried this initiative as doomed to monstrous accidents and confusion, the change has been pleasantly accepted and incorporated into our daily lives. The ability to travel east on RT5 has been good for our police and fire departments and easy for those wishing to circumnavigate the Riverfront Center and downtown.

This is yet another phase in the redevelopment strategy for our urban core, which will greatly benefit from this year’s start in construction of the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook. Demolitions of dilapidated properties on the south shore will take place in March, materials brought in for the footings and substructures by May, and by October we will begin to see our vision for this pedestrian bridge made real. Plans for a walkway along the north shore to Guy Park Avenue and the relocation of the train station will be laid concurrently to this activity.
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We must continue the demolition of buildings that are beyond repair in order to stay the creep of blight in our older neighborhoods while doing all in our power to save those structures that carry the blue print of our unique heritage as a post-industrial community. There is a delicate balance that must be struck in order to preserve that which speaks to this interesting and beautiful past. We must approach each property with sensitivity to our history and do all that we may to safeguard the characteristics of this legacy while protecting our residents from safety hazards. Therefore, I ask that the Council bond not only for demolition but also the stabilization of decaying properties, and that they invest the seed money necessary to successfully launch our land banking efforts in partnership with the City and County of Schenectady.

As I have said many times in the past, combating blight in older cities requires multiple methods of attack. We increased the number of code enforcement officers this year to three, which has been an immense advantage in this battle. We are able to more deftly answer complaints and proactively stave off violations, often stopping unpermitted work and may target particular streets or neighborhoods for obvious disregard of our building codes.
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We had selected a section of the Reid Hill area for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to help property owners with the cost of rehabbing homes and coupled that program with street reconstruction and demolitions. This assistance has been well received, with fifteen property owners engaged in this process. We will continue this endeavor in the coming year with a second grouping of properties that are contiguous to the first phase of work. We will also devote our attentions to East Main Street with a similar CDBG grant request for work along this visibly distressed corridor through the city.

It will be a significant year for construction in our City. We may expect to see the recently demolished Esquire site rebuilt with a new industry and a $4.4M building. A $20M assisted living facility will be built next to River Ridge on the South Side. Colonial Gardens at the northern entrance to our City will finish its $9.1M over haul, Roosevelt Apartments will be revamped for $3.4M and the Woodrow Wilson Complex with get a $12M make-over. The failing bank of Dove Creek will be shored up, the sanitary sewer system on Grieme Avenue will be updated and water-ravaged Henrietta Boulevard will get much-needed reconstruction.

Of course, our city has many other needs in the way of capital improvements that will have to be prioritized and funded by this council. They have been given an extensive list of projects and equipment from all departments that must be culled through and immediate action taken in areas that will impact the safety of our community. We will be undertaking this duty in the coming weeks.

In so many ways, we have our city workforce to thank for the services that are provided through your tax dollars. We have an exceptional police force and fire department and we are safe. We enjoy clean water and an efficient sewer system. Our parks are lovely, our streets are maintained and plowed, and we are readily cared for in emergency situations. I extend our shared appreciation for the men and women that keep our municipal services functioning to the best of their abilities when the weather is unbearable and budgets are tight. This is a never-ending task that demands unrivaled commitment in the face of adversity.
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I cannot discuss the great effort is has taken to battle the decline age brings to a city without acknowledging the magnificent efforts of our volunteers that have come out twice a year for the past five years and helped with our Spring and Fall Citywide Litter Pick-ups. This year saw our greatest turnout to date, with hundreds of men, women and children stooped along roadsides disposing of plastic bottles, wrappers, cigarette butts, aluminum cans, paper bags and Styrofoam cups. To date, we’ve picked up an incredible twenty tons of debris! We cannot underestimate the very real impact this has on our city. Certainly, we are cleaner, but more importantly we show that we are willing as a community to actively right the wrongs exacted upon us because of a modern disregard for our environment. We show that committed individuals are the deciding factor in creating a vibrant place to live.

PRIORITY FOUR: COMMUNITY HEALTH
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The fact is that the essence of this community is not found in its physical attributes – it is not found in its wonderful neighborhoods of which, and this bears repeating until everyone starts paying attention, MOST are attractive and great places to raise a family. The essence of our community is not in our industrial sites, small shops, many parks, memorials or churches – it is found in the hearts of our people.

This community again and again shows no matter how negative the airwaves, facebook or the blogs get, no matter what the circumstance or need, our people step up with love and strength in times of celebration or trouble. This past year is no different in that regard except that there have been so many instances where that spirit is evident.

Volunteers have been instrumental to the success of City-sponsored events, such as Spring Fling, National Night Out, or Homecoming (all of which were banner years in terms of the thousands that participated and attended.) Volunteers built a community garden with 40 children on the east end, painted murals across the city and created the most beautiful piece of public art in this city’s recent past, the mosaic at the Creative Connections Arts Center. Volunteers hauled stones from the river to build a labyrinth at City Hall for mediation purposes, planted 3,500 daffodil bulbs, and lit up thousands of colored decorations at Light Up the Sky, the Kristy Pollock Memorial Light Display and the new Bracchi Family Christmas Tree on the South Side. Volunteers brought us summer concerts all season long at Riverlink Park, hosted a historic tour of the West end, and a haunted tour of City Hall and Green Hill Cemetery. They connected in Neighborhood Watch groups to protect their friends and properties and hosted sporting events to fund programming for at-risk youth. They championed the interests of students, families in-need, the domestically abused, the grieving, the elderly, the homeless, and of course, this generosity extended to feral and abandoned animals.

Volunteers were critical to the success of the Bacon Recreation and Creative Connections Arts Centers. Though the City Recreation Department coordinated activities at both sites, the involvement of caring men and women acting in concert with our staff, especially the W1shhfu1 Th1nk1ng group and our Amsterdam Community Gardens Committee, have made a critical and lasting impression on hundreds of children that have passed through their doors. Families were confidently able to send their children safely to summer camp, tournaments, and a whole year of cultural activities and classes. For many of these young people, these facilities are a home away from a home that does not exist. This outpouring of love and support had been in response to the tragic murders of Jonathan DeJesus and Paul Damphier. We cannot forget the reasons for our rallying or the gifts that these angels have delivered to us. We must continue to fully support these facilities and organizations for the good of future generations.

These individuals fight on for the health of this city and it is the health of this city that will ultimately decide our destiny. It is with that thought in mind that several agencies, the City, GASD, St. Mary’s Healthcare and our business and faith-based communities, will roll out a “Reinvent Yourself Amsterdam” program this Spring focused on the mind, body and spirit of each individual, as the well-being of our residents directly correlates to the well-being of our community. We will offer opportunities for folks to exercise together, discover nutritional alternatives to processed and “fast” food, expand access to locally produced vegetables and meats, and explore new creative or spiritual outlets. We are fleshing this strategy out now, but it is one that has had great success elsewhere and will be a tremendous chance for each of us to embrace a new, more fully realized experience of life (or just loose a little weight!)

CONCLUSION

Each year that I am afforded this time to share my perceptions of last year and plans for the upcoming months, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the job you have blessed me with as Mayor. I thank each and every one of you for the challenge this presents me (my life is never boring) and for the support that so many of you have shown me personally. I am inspired by those of you that have given so much of your hearts to our Amsterdam and look forward to marching bravely with you through our difficulties. Together, we will triumph over hardship.

I must take this moment to also caution that party affiliations and personal agendas have no place in working as one for the good of this city. This council should be mindful that voting as a block to stop the advancement of responsible pursuit is tantamount to acting as a wall against progress instead of a bridge to our future. I respectfully ask that each of you act in an informed and independent fashion when making decisions on behalf of our residents. Cooperation is an action, not a word. I, again, sincerely extend my hand in welcome in this regard.

Lastly, to the general public and those of you that had taken part in the most important of civil liberties, the election: do not consider your job done once your vote was cast. Pay attention. Watch where your money is going and make sure your interests are being served, not the interests of one or a few.

I end now with a quote from one of the greatest men to ever have lived, whose simple life and deep commitment to his people serves as an inspiration to all of us:

“Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

Let’s be patient, but let’s make our dreams a reality.

Thank you so much.

Mayor Ann M. Thane

State of the City 2013

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 theMarket 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 plannedtraffic 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 addressbank 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 thehundreds 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 havestrengthened 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 Mixerin December. Volunteers coordinated swimming lessons for 150 children-in-need in July (sponsored by Hero-Beechnut), National Night Out in August, andconcerts at Riverlink Parkall 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 newVeteran’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 hearthe 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 downtownthrough 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 andhydroelectric 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, toset 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.

Financial Stability

In city government, endurance requires weaving sound economic analysis with policies and practice. We’ve taken many steps to protect our taxpayers and our successes are numerous.

  • $20 million dollars in stimulus funding and grants for Water Filtration and Waste Water Treatment Plant upgrades, bus purchases, road reconstruction, infrastructure improvements, neighborhood revitalization, waterfront and downtown development, residential rehabilitation, marketing, planning and recreational opportunities.
  • Renegotiated sales tax distribution agreement with Montgomery County ensures $500,000 or more in additional dollars to the annual city budget.
  • Renegotiated long-term water distribution agreements with the Towns of Amsterdam and Florida that will generate additional revenues as the economy improves.
  • Negotiated new GAVAC agreement bringing close to $200,000 per year to the city budget.
  • Upgraded bond rating allows the city to borrow for capital projects and equipment at a more favorable interest rate.

Pride

We must believe that our city will be at the heart of a vibrant and emerging economic region. Nanotechnology, biomedical research and clean energy initiatives will change the face of Upstate New York. That said, we MUST open our arms to investors from outside of our community to make buying property and relocating businesses to the City viable. We MUST open our hearts to people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. We must create a city that we are proud to pass on to future generations.

  • City Hall public spaces, offices, closets, outbuildings & grounds revamped on a shoestring budget. We also remediated asbestos in the basement identified in 2001. We are replacing electrical systems and continue to make improvements to this historic community treasure.
  • Arts/Community Center & community garden Our East End Creative Connections hosts creative opportunities for families and youth. It houses W1shfu1:Th1nk1ng, a group of progressive young community leaders that offer afterschool programming and mentoring to children-at-risk. Flash Forward 4H and the Amsterdam Garden Club also take up residence. The center offers unique classes, events and performances to our community. The mosaic at the front of the building is an outward expression of the beauty going on inside the building.
  • Enhanced parks &  recreational space A park attendant at Riverlink Park keeps the elevator and bathrooms cleaned, and gardens watered. Veterans Park sports a new softball field. Shuttleworth Park has new turf, stadium seating, deck, dam, ice skating & fishing pond, warming hut, additional parking and a new walking path. There’s skating again at City Hall and the Lincoln Ave. Playground, and a new fountain at the West End Memorial. We’ve got an internationally registered labyrinth and a new garden on the south lawn. There are two new veteran’s memorials, one at Vets Field and one on the south lawn at city hall. Sassafras Playground has been refurbished from sanding through staining and replacement of equipment.
  • Beautiful flower baskets, banners and new Christmas decorations greet residents and those traveling through the city. Flowers are now tended by city personnel at a greatly reduced cost to our taxpayers.
  • 8,000 flower bulbs and new plantings embellish every entranceway and main corridor in the city.

Community Strength

Our neighborhood activities have fostered community stewardship and solidarity in a city of close friends and neighbors. This love and commitment demonstrates the true character of the people of Amsterdam. I am reminded each day why I chose to raise my family in this city and why I continue to stay and fight for its future.

Neighborhood Associations are succeeding in crime prevention and beautification of our city, and have hosted “meet & greets”, National Night Out, the East End Attack, the Main Street Winter Mixer and the “Windows on Main Street” program. Our Spring Fling hosted 3,000 visitors at no cost to taxpayers!

  • 20+ TONS of litter picked up  in annual Spring and Fall clean-ups.
  • Graffiti painted out; Paint Bank started.
  • Citizens’ Police Academies regularly offered to familiarize residents with the work of our APD and to better our neighborhood watch efforts.
  • Community Mural Project features the work of local artists all over the city.

Accountability

During the previous administration, the absence of executive oversight for four years had created a working environment at all levels that lacked order and control. We are responsible to the many taxpayers we protect for the dollars we spend on their behalf. Certainly, this is inherent in our approach to financial management, but extends to ensuring that our staff is accountable for their time and that equipment is put to best use.

  • Control overtime costs to stop discretionary overtime.
  • Require detailed reporting of time worked, vehicle usage, breaks & time off.
  • Corrective action taken when employee performance is deficient.
  • All permanent positions advertised in contrast to nepotism of past administrations.
  • Tracking of operational concerns code enforcement, property maintenance, absentee landlords, grants management,  fire hydrant monitoring.

Public Safety

The challenges faced by our city seem perpetually unchanging, but with thoughtful action and dedication, we may alter our fortunes for the good. I believe these times demand invention, innovation, imagination, and decision. We must focus on short-term and long-term solutions to give our citizens confidence that priorities are being addressed in a timely manner.

  • Over 100 hydrants replaced as well as damaged valves, water mains and laterals. Replacement is ongoing.
  • Strategic action plan implemented for targeted water, sewer and fire prevention system improvements. Over $2,000,000 of systematic replacements all over the city, including Guy Park Avenue, Market Street Hill and the South Side.
  • Our drinking water is of the finest quality in our state upon completion of upgrades to our Water Filtration Plant.
  • Wastewater Treatment Plant improvements completed.
  • Dispatching & tracking software in place for fire & emergency response, as well as code enforcement departmental operations.
  • Demolition of over 100 dilapidated and dangerous structures completed ten more planned for this construction season.
  • Laborers trained to protect residents and employees in confined space rescue and workplace violence prevention.

Promotion

In the highly competitive global arena, we must tout our beauty, location, close community, success stories, and amenities to promote economic growth in Amsterdam. This message is as important to get across to our own residents as it is to the surrounding region and targeted audiences in other venues.

  • “Small city. Big heart.” tag line communicates our identity. Collateral material includes our new logo, letterhead, business cards, brochures, pens, pins, magnets, and advertisements.
  • “Best in Class” Statewide: website and printed promotional materials tout our beauty, location, close community, success stories and specific opportunities to foster economic growth.
  •  WMHT “Our Town: Amsterdam”  produced with contributions from residents.
  • On-line video series featured on our City of Amsterdam, NY Official Website– some produced professionally at no cost to taxpayers and some through a collaboration with students from Amsterdam High School. These efforts and community updates are displayed on our city Facebook pages too.