Mayor's View- Projects on tap will help Amsterdam move forward - The Recorder

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Mayor's View: Projects on tap will help Amsterdam move forward The Recorder

AmsterdamNews.net

By MICHAEL CINQUANTI
For The Recorder

The mayor’s proposed budget
I waited until the last possible minute to provide the common council and the citizens of Amsterdam with my first budget, hoping that I could get the most accurate read on what our city could expect to happen with critical financial factors outside our control. We had already accomplished what I said we would do when elected in November. I sat with each department head and went through each line item of their budget, examining their actual historical expenditures in those line items and together, made decisions that would permit our city to cover the lion’s share of the cost of our deficit financing not by raising property taxes, but via careful cost savings and new revenue streams. City Controller Matt Agresta was calculating that the first year cost to repay the debt would be right around $1.3 million so that became our target. Thanks to the cooperation and understanding of a lot of great staff members and new initiatives that will cut the costs for prescription drug coverage in our employee health insurance plans, we achieved it.
But meanwhile, COVID-19 was playing havoc on the revenue side of this coming year’s budget. We knew that the pandemic-induced shutdown of the local, state and national economies would have a negative impact on our city’s share of sales-tax revenues. We were desperately hoping the federal government would include direct financial assistance in one of their stimulus packages to blue states like New York and small-city governments like Amsterdam. Our state was the hardest hit of any with COVID and Albany spent billions to fight the germ’s spread. That expenditure threatens to reduce Amsterdam’s aid from the state by hundreds of thousands of dollars (NYS just informed us they were withholding 20% — or $139,779 — from our next quarterly state aid check due in July). That lost sales tax and state aid revenue could exceed the $1.3 million of cost savings and new revenues we had just put together to cover Amsterdam’s first year deficit repayment costs, so it was as if we were right back where we started from when I took office.
Though there is over $8 million in the House-approved version of the newest stimulus package (the Heroes Act) being considered in Washington, the Republican-controlled Senate decided not to even try coming up with a compromise version before the Fourth of July recess. As a result, I was forced to guess how much aid the federal government was going to provide Amsterdam at some point during our new fiscal year. I decided on $1.3 million of hoped-for federal pandemic relief aid on the revenue side of my 2020-21 budget. If the U.S. Senate fails to include any aid to small cities or blue states in the next stimulus, the election in November could change their attitude in January and still give our city six months of the fiscal year to receive federal pandemic relief aid to fund this budget.
But what if no federal aid materializes? This is the primary reason why I was forced to propose a property tax increase of 81 cents per thousand, which exceeds the tax cap. It will generate $250,000 as a hedge against the anticipated loss of sales tax and state aid revenues. We’re also expecting revenues from the sale of foreclosed properties to generate additional revenues later this year. The foreclosure proceedings to be held in Montgomery County Court were put on hold by the pandemic but should move forward in the near future, and the subsequent auction of those properties will certainly take place. We did not budget for these revenues so they will be available to help us survive should the need arise. If our pandemic-induced revenue shortages exceed these two sources of emergency funding then just as we did this year, we will sit down with department heads in December and once again go line item by line item to strategize how we can stretch cash flow in the second half of our 2020-21 budget year.
I need to express a huge thank you to our city’s Common Council. I put them in a stressful situation with my delayed and tightly condensed budget process. Deputy Mayor Jimmy Martuscello has been extremely helpful to me from the very start, making himself available whenever necessary to discuss each issue as it arose. Council members Irene Collins, Patrick Russo, Steve and Dave Gomula did not complain once about being forced into a last minute corner and it was evident by their insightful comments and questions during the work sessions that they still made the time to review every single line.
We also got a huge piece of good news this past week when we received a 2% interest bid on our $7.7 million bond issue. The city controller and I were ecstatic because we had budgeted 6% and that low bid cuts the first-year costs of our borrowing by right around $300,000. That savings permitted the common council to cut back on the amount of money we had budgeted as a transfer to the general fund from our water fund.

Moving Amsterdam forward
Despite the tightness of this year’s budget, we made sure it funds getting Amsterdam moving and growing again. We will have the available funds necessary to start and bond for several DRI projects by late summer early fall. They include the new Community Center and the library expansion. We will begin updating our wastewater treatment plant. We will finally get the fully funded Church Street rebuild project completed and we will complete an environmental study and come up with a development plan for the Five Corners. Despite a potential cutback in state CHIPS funding we will still have a robust street repaving program — and thanks to a first-time-ever CHIPS collaboration with the city of Gloversville, we will get more asphalt per dollar which means more miles of Amsterdam streets will be repaved. We will also begin our neighborhood rejuvenation project, targeting fifty distressed properties in our city for demolition or rehabilitation.
I spent one afternoon last week taking a group of investors from downstate on a tour of our city. Like me, they see opportunity in every neighborhood. They stressed an opinion that the experience of this pandemic will drive working families and small businesses away from large dense urban areas to areas like the Mohawk Valley and especially communities like Amsterdam. That is my vision for this great city, to become the favorite Capital District hometown choice for both working families and small businesses.
We also now have two active development projects in process, which if successful will bring two new industrial employers into our city. Together, they would account for right around 100 new jobs and we intend to do everything we can to make them both a reality.

COVID-19 cancellations
One of the toughest things I had to do thus far during my first term as mayor was cancel a summer full of city-sponsored events and activities, including the opening of the swimming pool and our very popular summer day camp for kids program. Making those decisions even more gut wrenching is the fact that the governor has since reversed some of his earlier prohibitions and instead saying if the municipality can put in place a proper social distancing policy for camps and pools we could actually have offered them this year. But there lies the problem. I sat down with the staff of our recreation department to discuss each program and it was clear that there was no way we could expect the young adults who staff our summer camp and swimming pool programs to take on the added responsibility of preventing scores of young children from exposure to the virus. And this past week we have seen areas of our country experiencing huge spikes in virus infections. It is clear to me that now is not the time to let our guard (or face masks) down here in our own area.
It is certainly great to see our city come slowly back to life. Eateries throughout our city are reopening their dine-in business and some new ones like Lorenzo’s Southside and Evolve are causing quite a buzz on Bridge Street. The Amsterdam Mohawks have put together a county-approved social distancing plan and will begin playing baseball next month. Both city-leased concessions at Riverlink Park and the Muni golf course should be up and running in July as well! I urge you to support all of Amsterdam’s locally owned enterprises but when doing so, please continue to practice the science-based guidelines for avoiding and preventing the spread of the virus.

COVID-19 Coverage

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Thank you, Montgomery County
Last week, the Montgomery County legislature approved a resolution which permits the city of Amsterdam to finally pay just over $1.2 million worth of county tax payments that our city collected between 2004 and 2012, but had never forwarded to the county government. I learned about this money owed when I took office in January and immediately contacted the county Executive, Matt Ossenfort, and told him we wanted to get the issue resolved. Thanks to the leadership and efforts of Ossenfort and county legislators Bob Purtell and John Duchessi, the two parties were able to work out a repayment plan that spreads the payments over 20 years at a 1 percent interest rate. Our city hopes to pay the full amount off as quickly as we possibly can but giving us 20 years to do so certainly permits us the breathing room we will need to do so without going even deeper into debt.
In addition to Mssrs. Ossenfort, Purtell and Duchessi, I want to extend my sincere thanks to county legislators Martin Kelley, Brian Sweet, John Thayer and Dan Wilson for their support. Although these gentlemen represent mostly areas outside of the city, they understood our city is working hard to get out from under a very difficult financial situation and realized that a fiscally stronger Amsterdam in the short term means a fiscally stronger Montgomery County in the long run.

The Rao family continues their amazing philanthropy
Just a few weeks after making a $500,000 donation to the Montgomery County Office for the Aging, the Neena Rao Charitable trust pledged the same amount to the new building fund of the Montgomery County SPCA! This family’s tradition of giving to our community is truly phenomenal, and on behalf of our entire city I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Congratulations to the AHS Class of 2020
Never before has an AHS graduating class in our community been asked to make so many sacrifices in order to keep their classmates and our community safe. On behalf of our entire city, I thank these graduating seniors, I congratulate them and I wish them futures of happiness and prosperity.

Michael Cinquanti is the mayor of Amsterdam.

Amsterdam Mayor Michael Cinquanti


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