Scroll down to view article
Scroll down to view article
Scroll down to view article
Scroll down to view article

Council members need to get spending priorities straight

Priorities

Lately there’s been a whole bunch of situations cropping up that have required the Common Council to consider spending money that wasn’t originally budgeted for. Earlier this year, the council fought tooth and nail to end up with a budget that didn’t raise taxes. That was certainly a noble goal, but at the time, I wondered if what was passed was actually a viable budget. We’ve only just completed the first quarter of the fiscal year, and already the cracks are beginning to show.

The biggest problem that’s come up so far is the overtime budget for the Fire Department. Last week, Fire Chief Michael Whitty told the council that the department had already used almost all of their allotted $60,000 overtime budget. Even though records clearly show the department used anywhere from $86,000 to $150,000 in previous years, everyone seemed shocked by the announcement. Mayor Ann Thane’s proposed budget which reflected the former chief’s request for $100,000 for overtime, which took into account anticipated retirements, was cut down by $40,000 by the council earlier in the year.

Alderman Ron Barone made a sanctimonious speech about how Amsterdam had “better learn” to stay within its budget. Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler flat-out said “no” as soon as Whitty made the request for more funds and went on later to say that “we’re not in a financial position to just keep passing contingency items.”

Neither Barone nor Hatzenbuhler seem very receptive of an emergency request for $15,000 to help keep the city’s homeless shelter open either.

But just last September both council members voted to use $8,000 from the contingency fund to cover additional vegetation removal work that was done by the Recreation Dept. at the request of council members (Resolution #14/15-58). Also last month, both members seemed perfectly willing to find an extra $20,000 to lay down pavement for a special events tent at the golf course. When asked where the money would come from, Barone’s reply was “we’ll figure it out.”

The contingency fund shouldn’t be looked at as a giant un-allocated piggy bank for whatever projects pop into city official’s heads during the course of the year. The contingency fund should be used for truly unplanned or unexpected shortfalls that may affect the health, safety or well-being of our residents.

And that’s why maybe next year, the common council may want to start off in January by planning for the budget, rather than burning up valuable time and concentration by playing political power games as they did this year. That way maybe they can do a little bit better job next time of judging the budget requests from department heads as well as making sure that special projects are planned for so that (*gasp*) the tax levy can be set accordingly so we can be sure the funds are available to use. And if council members don’t want to raise taxes to fund their projects, then maybe those projects aren’t that essential after all.

It’s interesting to note that Alderman Ed Russo made at least two comments at last week’s meeting that hinted at his dissatisfaction with the way the budget was handled this year. During the budget process earlier in the year, Russo voted along with the three other Republicans on the council to approve a long list of cuts to Thane’s proposed budget, but broke ranks to support saving the Corporation Counsel’s administrative assistant position.

In regards to Barone’s statements about the fire department overtime, he said,“That’s why when we do the budget, we really have to look at the budget and you really have to know the realistic figures.” Later he said in regards to Hatzenbuhler’s concerns about contingency fund spending, “When we do the budget, we have to do the budget properly.”

At the end of the day, however, we have to work with the budget we have, not the budget we wish we had. The council needs to do a little thinking to prioritize their spending decisions.

The way I see it, unless we are going to tell the fire department they can’t take vacation or sick time, or that they have to make do with short staff, we’re going to have to increase their overtime budget. A mistake was made here and it has to be corrected. If the money can’t be found from cutting other lines in the budget, then it’s going to have to come out of contingency funds.

The other area where I think the city has an obligation is with the land bank. This program is crucial if we ever hope to start reversing the problems with blight in our neighborhoods. Both the mayor and council have expressed unanimous support for the project, but somehow funding was left out of both the proposed and final budget. The city made one $15,000 contribution out of last year’s budget, and have made one more contribution of the same amount using contingency funds this year. I think it was an honest mistake that the program didn’t get a line in the budget, but we need to make sure this program doesn’t lose momentum.

Lastly, I believe we should definitely contribute to help keep the homeless shelter open this winter. It’s simply unconscionable to me for our city to revert back to the situation we had years ago when people were camping out in the wooded areas through the freezing winter. When someone is living out in the cold, that’s an indication that their problem is far more serious than the friendly advice to “get a job” is going to help. The short-term assistance that the homeless shelter provides is critical to helping those in the most severe conditions of poverty get back on their feet.

Any other non-essential pet projects need to be put on the back burner until the city can either properly include them in the budget next year, or fund them through bonding. I think improving the golf course, cutting vegetation and fixing up our parks are beneficial projects. But we all need to be honest about the price tag. Keeping our tax rate flat is great, but if it comes at the expense of depleting our contingency fund, borrowing, or even dipping into our fund balance, is that really the best thing for the city long-term financial health?

(Photo by Tim Becker)

About Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of AnthemWebsites.com LLC which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.

42 Responses to Council members need to get spending priorities straight

  1. There should never be $100,000 worth of overtime worked in a budget for any department. The new Fire Chief has taken it upon himself to institute an unrealistic mandatory minimum staffing that is NOT part of any contractual agreement. This resulted in the Fire Department prematurely burning through their allocated overtime spending limit. I wonder if taxpayer money was used to hire a psychic medium to find ghosts at city hall last week? It’s not only the ghosts that are angry with what is happening at city hall this year.

    • Tim Becker says:

      Can you cite your source as far as the fire chief’s policy? The past year’s OT spending was $86k, so even if spending was the same as last year, under the previous chief, we’d still have a problem.

      • My source is former Corporation Counsel Bob Going who described the situation on the October 10, 2014, WCSS broadcast of The Show With No Name. It is available in video format on YouTube.

    • Tim Becker says:

      Correction, I don’t have last year’s actual amount, I read the wrong column, but in previous years, the budget worksheet shows overtime anywhere from $86K in 12-13 to over $150k in 09-10 ,10-11 and over 100k in 11-12. So I’m puzzled as to how you can pin the blame for overtime on the current chief who just started this year. A budget of 60K for overtime is way out of line given previous year’s numbers.

      • Before we both make any more assumptions, let’s get all the facts out in the open. What does the contract state about manning shifts in the AFD? How many people are allowed on vacation per day? How many are out on sick leave or disability? Are all the allocated positions filled? How many responses this year required additional staff called in on overtime? Is overtime built in the current 12 hour shift schedule?

      • Tim Becker says:

        Past budget expenditure numbers are not assumptions, they are facts 🙂

        So I skimmed the broadcast you referenced and listened from about 4:00 to 6:43 where they talk about the issue. I do not hear them say what you have asserted, that Whitty is implementing any type of new policy. What Going says is “they’ve instituted, or continued to institute minimum manning which is not…in the contract, it’s not part of the contract. This new fire chief is pushing both the mayor and common council to the limit by doing what he feels like and calling people in on overtime when there’s no requirement that they be called in on overtime.” The gentlemen on the show do not cite any sources themselves as to where they get they have gotten their information and rather refer to some chief who must have been on years ago before Liberti. Sorry, but I’m more inclined to listen to the commenter below who is actually on the AFD, but that’s just me 🙂

  2. Mike Demars says:

    The minimum staffing level (6 firefighters) at the fire department has been in place for over 20 years. This practice was maintained throughout Chief Liberti’s tenure. Chief Whitty has continued the same staffing, and in no way in has there been any policy enacted by him to increase overtime. The council was recommended the overtime amount by an expert, Liberti, who has more budgeting experience than anyone arguing about budgets in Amsterdam these days. The amount is in line with what has been needed to staff the city for over 20 years, more or less always the same amount every year. Certain members ignored that information, created a new number out of thin air, then produced no plan as to how to make it work.

    The council was also advised that with two retirees, and two injuries this summer, that overtime was inevitable. Again, expert advice was ignored, despite warning that the department was going to be understaffed until December. Now these same people are shocked that their budget isn’t working.

    The accusations that the new fire chief has created a new staffing requirement, and this fictitious policy has resulted in “prematurely burning through” anything, is a flatly made up statement.

    • Charlie K. says:

      Thank you for providing facts. The “fringe” portion of the populace, a small but VERY vocal part of the community, has been energized by the election of the Fourth Ward alderwoman. Unfortunately, this has resulted in city officials having to take time away from their actual work to deal with misinformation that seems to be getting out with more frequency.

      • Mike Demars says:

        I’m not naive enough to think I can get everyone to agree with me. And I know there are people who are going to dislike the fire department and not be convinced otherwise, just as there are those who feel the same about police, dpw, rec, golf course etc.. But too often assumptions are made without checking if they are true, and they soon become “facts” in public debate. Sometimes this happens when a department head is sitting right in the council chambers and their opinion is never asked, or is ignored.

        If we occasionally start with actual facts in this city it will lead to smarter debate, and god willing, more interest in citizens running for the council.

    • diane says:

      The minimum staffing caught all of us off guard, as I was not aware that the AFD had any. By contract they do not, as I have now read them all since 1999. I understand what they may be using is from a state fireman’s association recommendation. I will ck this out tomorrow. In the meantime, while the retirements were planned for, the two disabled officers were not, and until last week we were not aware of them. Overtime for the AFD has been a long running issue and does need to be addressed. It is something that must be looked into. So it code enforcement of commercial/residential units, 3 families and above. Alderman Russo and myself had a meeting scheduled with the new chief, but unfortunately, the GD and Thane gag order came out and the new chief stated he would not cross it. We have now wasted two months to find out what we knew all along, it is illegal and must be rescinded so this council can return to business with all personnel as needed. New department heads usually have new ideas and we look forward to meeting with the chief to figure this all out.

      • Debbie says:

        “Alderman Russo and myself had a meeting scheduled with the new chief, but unfortunately, the GD and Thane gag order came out and the new chief stated he would not cross it.”

        Diane, stop. just stop. If the so called “gag order” kept you from meeting with the Chief then that was due to your own arrogance. The Mayors office was clearly asking to be in the loop, so ALL you had to do was notify her office that you wanted a meeting. How convenient NOW to claim that is why you didn’t bother. Your new press secretary/adviser will run interference for you on this I’m sure, but my advice would be to grow up. Both of you.

    • “This is the way we’ve always done it” is not reason enough to continue a practice that is not contractual or efficient use of taxpayer money. I am very familiar with contractual staffing levels, appropriate use of vacation and sick time, scheduling training and use of overtime and emergency management as it was part of a job I did for 20 years in the NYS Department of Corrections both as a Watch Commander and Staffing Lieutenant. So in my expert opinion, the actual facts about staffing levels in the AFD and use of overtime have NOT been presented here. The “fringe peepers” who live outside of our community but feel a need to criticize the actions of our citizens may want to focus their hostility elsewhere.

      • Tim Becker says:

        Let’s not get into dismissing someone’s opinion just because they are out of the area. There’s no reason for that in this case. I’ve argued before that someone’s location can sometimes affect a person’s view on Amsterdam issues, but I don’t see how that’s applicable here.

      • Charlie K. says:

        It also stands to reason that a successful Amsterdam also means a successful region around it. If you look at small cities that thrive, the area around them also tends to benefit from the ripple effect that’s caused.
        People who don’t live in the city of Amsterdam but work there or conduct personal and/or professional business there DO have an interest in seeing it improve.

      • Tim Becker says:

        Unfortunately, Jerry, you are doing the same thing that Diane is doing and what I and many others are criticizing her for – throwing out an accusation without any facts, then looking for facts to back up what you have already decided you want to believe. It’s a bad way to do things and you both ought to stop.

  3. rogo says:

    Anyone find out what the fund balance and debt accumilation was from the 6/30/2012 AUD?? Until that is even found out how can we even think of doing budgets!! We are in 2014-2015 budget now

    • Tim Becker says:

      You have to make a budget every year based on the best numbers you have, there’s really no other choice.

      But here are your numbers per the 2011-2012 AUD:

      Total outstanding debt at end of 2012: $27,251,049

      General fund balance at end of 2012 – $393,649

      • rogo says:

        If fund balance was 393,000 as of 6/30/2012, do you seriously thinks we still have a fund balance?? For past few years we have just been rolling over the BAN money, don’t think we even have bonded yet.

      • Tim Becker says:

        If we had no balance, the city would certainly be bouncing checks right now. I’ve talked to Controller Agresta, and he has said we are nowhere close to bouncing checks. I think we still need to wait until the end of the year to know exactly what the current fund balance is.

  4. Tim is correct: the show must go on.

    Two points of interest: 1. these figures are still tentative until the reconciliations are completed. 2. Expenditures included in the debt total may be offset by grants, FEMA reimbursements or may be exempted from debt limit restrictions (water, sewer debt.)

    We have priority projects that must move forward. The capital projects list was given to the council at the beginning of the year. It specifies equipment, projects and investments that must be made or costs escalate and we pay more down the road.

    Downtown/waterfront revitalization, public safety, neighborhood revitalization, community engagement, responsible budgeting and master planning are where staff and I focus our efforts because that’s what our residents expect.

    • Alayne says:

      Mayor, why do you insist on spending more money? The controller has made it perfectly clear it would not be a good idea to spend or BORROW ANYMORE MONEY until they are aware of the financial situation. Take a look at the fund balance referenced above and you’re worried about spending money!!! How can you even mention it? This city can only hope, what you call a show, yet most see as a circus, will come to an abrupt halt in 2016!

      • Tim Becker says:

        To be fair, you should ask the same question of the council. Why did they feel it was essential to spend $8K from contingency on weed whacking? $20k to build a platform for the tent?

        The AUD’s should all be up-to-date by January at which point, hopefully – our credit rating will improve soon after. That was what the controller said we should wait for before doing any long-term bonding.

        My question to you is this – what would you do about the aging equipment and infrastructure that needs to be fixed? Would you let it go to the point that it would take *more* money to fix down the road, or take care of it now?

      • Rob Millan says:

        You know, the way some people would like you to believe that ‘borrowing money,’ such as bonding for the critical needs of the city, somehow means borrowing for lavish pay raises and parties is astounding.

  5. Alayne, We cannot shove our heads into a hole and pretend that these necessities don’t exist. The Capital Projects list must be reviewed, discussed & prioritized and a short- and long-term plan set forth to manage our needs.

    To do nothing is irresponsible.

    • Alayne says:

      Tim, I’m not happy with any of it. I believe city govt. should worry more the basics, such as the fire dept., police dept., and the DPW. Until we can afford to pay for them and not have the few extra dollars in OT be a huge deal, I beleive we should cut out the rest! Keep the few parks we have clean and maintained, keep city properties cleaned and once they have accomplished this we can worry about the novelties. We are talking about $15k in OT for safety purposes compared to $20k for moving a tent! Yes, a tent! Could have the OT been avoided? I am not qualified to judge. Hopefully it can be avoided going forward! I can assure you that if you ask the average person if they would rather their money go to paying the OT at the fire dept. or moving a tent, most would say the AFD.
      Mayor, with all due respect, bonding/banning/borrowing for these projects would not be an issue if our finances were in order. You continue to use the word may, when stating how something will be paid for, and when you use the word may you also have to use the words may not. You have stated it before, the buck stops on your desk. The fact the required documents (AUD)were not filed in a timely manner resulted in a b/r downgrade, which could have been avoided if you would have been more focused on the important issues and not a million other things! You are all over the place, from murals to spending millions in artwork to worrying about a few bucks from golf cart rentals. The only way this city will move forward is to increase revenues. Instead if worrying about artwork on the bridge worry about economic development, increase the tax base. This has not been a priority and economic development has been ignored for far too long. For these reasons I do not believe you should lecture anyone on being irresponsible. TY!

      • Tim Becker says:

        I agree with your first point. That was the point of my article 🙂 Why is Ron Barone perfectly fine with using 8K in contingency funds for weed whacking, and saw no problem with finding $20K to fund the tent project even though it wasn’t budgeted for, but balks at paying $15k for AFD overtime after they obviously under-budgeted given the OT budgets for the past 3-4 years?

        As for the importance of economic development – of course I agree with you, but if you have really been paying attention to what work the mayor has been doing with the land bank, with the Community & Economic Development Director, with city marketing, following the comprehensive plan, etc, rather than just buying into all the negative rhetoric from people who want to see Amsterdam become some sort of retirement community mecca, then you wouldn’t have written what you just did 🙂

  6. Thank you, Tim, for noting the work my administration has progressed over these seven years. I’m proud of the broad spectrum of projects and initiatives we’ve managed to implement and bring to fruition. Alayne, I respectfully request that you familiarize yourself with the great many successes we’ve facilitated by visiting my website: http://www.mayorthane.wordpress.com.

    As Tim intimates, there has been a systematic mischaracterization of the work I’ve done, with my opposition citing my interest in beautification and arts to the exclusion of other pursuits. This is so far from the truth it is laughable.

    Let me get this straight, you are for accountability when it comes to overtime but not when it comes to golf cart revenues, even though analysis indicated there may have been $80K+ in cart revenues the city was loosing? Are you for or against the council blessing off on moving the tent for $20K without public discussion or planning? I think you need to shine the light where it belongs.

    I’d like to dispel another couple of falacies. I have never had the authority to unilaterally expend funds or bond. Our expenditures or bonding have always required the cooperation of the Council. As much as certain individuals would like to assign responsibility for the condition of the city’s finances to the office of the mayor, this has always been the charge of the council as a whole. Moreover, keeping track of fiscal matters rests squarely on the shoulders of the Controller’s Department. I have no authority over the Controller or his/her staff. I tried repeatedly to bring the problems in that department to the attention to of the council, the media and our residents. I had requested the hiring of outside financial expertise as early as 2009. It’s strange to me that these matters go forgotten or unrecognized, but I attribute that to political and personal agendas.

    I’m extremely excited about developments that are taking shape for the coming months, like $500K for land bank work, train station relocation and waterfront redevelopment projects, master planning, new recreation center in the works, hotel rehab on Market Street and the imminent Armory hotel completion. Infrastructure improvements have been approved for funding and Deer Run will start construction next Spring on the new assisted living facility. We’re hopeful that construction will also start at the Esquire site. The MVGO is expected to be completed in a years time! The books will be squared by years end and communications with S&P look good for our credit rating. Neighborhood Watch is branching into new neighborhoods and new leaders are starting to surface in every ward. This is an exciting time for Amsterdam. I, for one, am grateful for what we’ve done, what we have, and where we’re going.

  7. Pingback: Let’s Stop Pretending We’re a Small City wth a Big Heart | Flippin' Amsterdam NY

  8. Alayne says:

    Overtime – Let me start by saying that I do not have a problem with OT for safety purposes, if it can be avoided going forward great. Safety should be the city’s main priority.

    Golf Carts – The golf cart revenue is yet to be seen. It will be interesting to see if your analysis was correct and the city actually sees a profit of $80K after the cost of cart rentals.

    The Tent – There is enough blame to go around on the tent debacle, but I do believe the Director of Recreation was quoted, on this very same website, stating it was his idea and he had initially reached out to Laura. Should he have discussed this with someone beforehand? Probably.

    Spending – No you cannot take all for the blame for the irresponsible borrowing, the prior common council members must share that blame. My question would be, did you vote against the spending/borrowing? Did you advise the council that it would be irresponsible to borrow money given the city’s financial situation was and still is unknown? Again, essentially you are the CEO of the city and when push comes to shove, the buck stops on your desk.

    Employment/Economic – The city was promised 300 jobs for the construction of the pedestrian bridge, to date, that has proven to be false. Now we are being promised 300-400 jobs for the construction of Deer Park, we can only hope that we are not being sold another false promise and these jobs come to fruition. Jobs should be another one of your main priorities. Sadly the average unemployment rate for Amsterdam, for the last seven years you have been in office, is 9.3%. More jobs have left the area than come. This is not good for our community.

    Numerous abandoned buildings – Not only are they eyesores, they have become dangerous. The recent fire on Elizabeth St. is proof. The house has been vacant for fifteen years, this is unacceptable. Were the members of the AFD trained in codes? Have they been asked to assist the codes dept.?

    The “unprecedented” recreation center – Given the fact the city has not been able to keep our parks maintained properly, control vegetation, keep the sidewalks and bridges clear and property owned by the city, including spots where fire hydrants were located were not maintained/mowed the last thing you should be doing is putting more responsibility on the rec. depts. plate.

    Perhaps it is time to spend all of your spare time focusing on jobs and expanding the tax base, working on bringing businesses to the city., grants for demolishing the numerous abandoned and dangerous buildings, keeping the city owned property neat and tidy, and not on grants for millions in artwork, a recreation center, the relocation of the train station and yes, power grabs.

    • Tim Becker says:

      Did you see today’s story about the 500k grant for the land bank? Blight is not an easy problem to fix. The land bank has been years in the making but is finally coming to fruition.

  9. Again, Alayne, check out my website (www.mayorthane.com) and you will see much of your concerns/suggestions have already been or are being addressed in a myriad of ways.

    Questions for you: what would you NOT have bonded for? What do you consider irresponsible? Fire truck? DPW replacement vehicles? Demolitions? Emergency storm response? Reimbursable infrastructure improvements? Because remember, my administration has brought in over $25 million in grants and stimulus funding. And also understand that, though we were aware of problems in the Controller’s department, no one knew the extent of the problems until the last audit by the state. We had had two prior audits by the OSC and they had not picked up on the severity of these issues. The Council(s) made decisions to borrow based on the best information that they had at the time which had been provided by our elected Controllers.

    I spend 90% of my waking hours working this job. Again, I think you are markedly unfamiliar with what I do or have done in my capacity as Mayor of this fair city. I’d welcome a visit from you to discuss this face-to-face. Perhaps a sit down in my office, where I can review our daily activities and operations, would help inform your online commentary. Hey, we hugged once in the middle of chaos. Maybe there’s hope for us. ;-).

    I sincerely hope you take me up on my invitation. Call me.

  10. Luis says:

    Tim, says ” blight is not an easy thing to fix” nice words but you wouldn’t even know how to fix something like blight. Neither does Mayor Thane. For instance rather than removing a blighted house 46 Elizabeth St. were over the last year and of course the last 7 yrs the Mayor has ignored what is a blighted nuisance. Time and time again the city received complaints about kids frequently breaking-in and trashing the building. It was, I repeat it was repeatly stated to the Mayor and those in charge that this building was a nuisance and there was a strong possibility that the end result was would end as it did. Ok what do I know right Tim you have better facts right? Well I’ve got 17 yrs in code enforcement, 13 of which in Amsterdam and great knowledge on this property. More so the I know of the attempts of code enforcement to remediate this nuisance before anyone had to risk there life in fighting a fire and the damage that comes from the lack of responsibily of the Mayor’s Office. I’m sure the Mayor will say she knew nothing about this but the many complaints registered in the codes dept. would tell anyone who really cares to search and find for themselves the truth. Yeah what a fabulous job you are doing mayor.

    • Well, Luis, we have taken down over 115 derelict properties since I took office. There is only so much the city can afford. As far as that particular property goes, I’ve personally cleaned the grounds and surrounding properties in our Spring Litter Pick-up more than once. Because of our efforts, Rite Aid regularly sends an employee to clean behind their store and it’s a thousand times neater than it was seven years. Just ask Bobbie Marks across the street. While the building was still standing, we sent code enforcement to cite the property, DPW to secure the property, APD to deal with the nuisance calls, and Phil Lyford voluntarily painted out the graffiti. The property was never ignored as you seem to intimate. We do what we can with the resources we have. The Neighborhood Watch, CDBG grants in targeted areas, clean ups, land bank and demolitions are just a few of the initiatives we’ve pursued to manage this blight.

  11. Tim Becker says:

    My point is that long term solutions to blight – such as economic development efforts and the land bank – take time and money to materialize. You can argue about how individual cases are handled, but as I am sure you would agree, it will take a whole lot of money to rehab and/or demolish all the blighted houses in the city. People act like there’s some kind of magic button that can be pressed that fixes everything, and I don’t see that as realistic. No one wants to raise taxes to pay for demo/rehab, no one wants to borrow for demo/rehab, so you have to wait for the state or federal grants to come, that’s all you can do. You can argue that a certain property should have gotten priority for demo or not, but what is your long term solution for addressing *all* the blighted properties?

  12. Luis says:

    Mayor, you do a good job of covering over what you don’t like said. As I recall you imposed a gag order on me and all city hall employees from talking to people anybody without your consent what a BS story it’s for better communication please don’t paint me over. Lets talk about the interior of 46 Elizabeth and what was going on in their. Large volumes of dispensed protection we could start with, and you pick up litter on the outside. I’m talking about how a true nuisance, with warning signs telling you this may happen happened. Remember the three buildings that collaped on there own because of how you prioritize these structures in need of demo. Thats not how you protect firemen and the public from these hazardous structures. Yes Tim your correct on only so much money for a great need but not lisening to code enforcement brings about this outcome. This is why there are nuisance laws and unsafe structure laws on the city’s books. The person who changed the city charter to put herself in charge of code enforcement, Mayor Thane has only been lucky no one has gotten seriously hurt so far but its no way to protect the general public. Tim, individual cases like this should not be brushed under the carpet, you need to correct what went wrong but I would not expect any such fair review from this administration.

  13. Luis says:

    As for long term solutions, Tim I do it everyday and there would in no way be enough space here to go into that. Action speaks not words.

    • Tim Becker says:

      I don’t buy that, if you are taking the time to write comments here and you genuinely want to have a productive discussion, you can surely post a summary of some of the actions you’ve taken to help fight blight. I would be glad to hear them, and I am sure the public would benefit from hearing them as well.

      Just to clarify, wouldn’t you agree that the land bank is at least one good approach to fighting blight? I’m sure it’s not going to solve the entire problem, but 500K should be enough to fix up a whole lot properties and return them to the tax rolls, right?

  14. Luis, the demolition list was prioritized by the City Engineer, his assistant, the AFD Chief, Plumbing Inspector, General Foreman, Code Enforcement Officer and myself. The city demoed property that it owned first, properties that were imminently in danger of collapse and properties that had been fire damaged and needed to come down as emergency demolitions. The property at 46 Elizabeth was privately owned. The city is not in the business of taking down privately owned properties unless it is determined that they are an immediate danger to surrounding properties or people. Again, the property was not ignored by the city and we are progressing various initiatives to manage blight that past administrations never dreamed of.

  15. Luis says:

    Tim, the land bank which I’m familar with is a new tool in addition to what has already been available. It’s good but it’s a very long way from any real results. Even the renovation of one structure does not stabilize a neighborhood. You still need good residents to maintain that structure. My work with HUD renovations over the years. I saw newly renovated homes and apartment buildings in Amsterdam trashed by tenants who don’t have respect for others property or the effects of poorly maintained property on their neighbors value in this city. Some of those renovated structures sit abandoned today. Don’t get me wrong but its an illusion if anybody thinks or believes that receiving all these funds will be met with growth.

    Mayor, we have no growth in the City and even w/you running around 90% of your time has not produced any growth. I see a lot of money being spent but no growth yet we keep hearing about this website with a myirad of accomplishments yet without any growth.

    Call it what you want, land bank, economic development but where is the growth? And I’m not speaking about welfare housing. Mayor you have lost focus of the most important fundamentals.
    Please do not throw others under the bus in what is your responsibility. When you came into office you told code enforcement everything that we were doing for the past 20 yrs. was wrong. Yet for the first 5 yrs in office your corporation counsel couldn’t even get a case in city court accepted. Before you came into office I and code enforcement won many cases against your corporation counsel who represented many slum Lords and in one case I won along with the corp counsel at that time a great fine of $5000.00. Still the highest collected code enforcement fine.

    Mayor code enforcement under you has nothing over the work done by the Emanuel or Duchessi administrations before you. And I worked under them both.
    And Mayor you obviously don’t know the difference between a nuisance and an unsafe structure which has three degrees of citations and one of them is specific to imminent structure. Yes 46 ELiz. was NOT imminent of collapse but yes it was a blighted nuisance and every other municipality where I have spoken to building officials take these type of building seriously because we have seen this end result.

    • I’m happy to have the opportunity to talk about some of the positive developments that are happening across the city that you apparently haven’t noticed. There’s the whole waterfront development strategy being worked on now: move the train station to the northern terminus of the $16.5M MVGO and create a multi-modal hub; contect the bridge to main street; develop property along Bridge Street with new infill buildings and parking structures; redevelop the Chalmers site into a mixed use commercial/residential project; connect Guy Park Manor/Lock 11 to the MVGO, bike path and Riverlink via a walkway along the river, repair storm damage along the shore below the train tracks and create addititonal recreational opportunities on the river.

      We’re already seeing private engagement because of public investment: L’Ultimo, Joya, the Southside Food Market, and Dolce all opened in anticipation of the bridge being built and Bridge Street being improved. The Canal store is being restored, Parillo’s redid their facade and Brundidge repainted the apartment house next to her. The armory was purchased last year and is being converted into a high end hotel with 28 units. On the north shore, most of the facades on the existing Main Street above the anticipated bridge have been rehabbed. The Book Hound, La Piaza, Azul, Emmy Lou’s, Revenge and Sharp Shooters have all opened up in the past four years, again, anticipating new opportunity because of the bridge, traffic pattern change and proposed train station relocation. Before the council drove a very qualified and experienced developer out of the area, the Chalmers building was slated for a $20M repurposing into upscale condominiums and he was thrilled about the bridge. We now have an empty lot but it is still one of the most attractive pieces of real estate on the river because of the investments we’ve made over time that have been fought tooth and nail by those that have no alternative plan and seemingly no vision for the future.

      We’re in discussions with one of the top real estate developers in the state about the mill site. Again, they are captivated by that bridge project and the connections on the north shore. They are excited about the hotel being renovated on Market Street and the proposed walkway to Guy Park Manor. Amtrak and DOT are working with us. Will this cost a lot of money? Yes, but this public/private partnering is how change is birthed.

      The Colonial Gardens and Roosevelt Apartment complexes have been completely rehabbed and Woodrow Wilson is following suit. Breton Industries, NTI Global, and Mohawk Fabrics have all expanded their operations, increasing their physical facilities and adding jobs. Construction is expected to begin on the new assisted living facility at Deer Run and a new industry at the Esquire site next Spring. St. Mary’s is building at the AMH campus which will benefit our residents with better health care. Be mindful that any development in the towns betters our financial picture because of the water and sales tax agreements we instituted over the past years (God bless Beechnut for moving their operation to this end of the county instead of out of the state.)

      This is a snapshot of the investment and burgeoning growth the city is experiencing. It will take so much more work to turn the trend of decades around but I am proud of what this administration has done and optimistic about where we’re going.

  16. Alayne says:

    I once had a friend jokingly ask me “are you going to believe what I am telling you or what you see with your own eyes” all one has to do is look around the city….it’s not the pretty Norman Rockwell painting you would like folks to see. The city is a hot mess. Old broken down abandoned factories, with more to come. The entrances of the city give the impression of a deserted ghost town. Boarded up houses. Impassable sidewalks on bridges due to overgrown vegetation and the city depts. ignoring snow removal duties. City properties are unkept. Until last summer, the parks were not maintained well. (thank God for Facebook as residents actually had a public place to voice their complaints as the complaints to city hall went ignored) Graffiti. Average unemployment at almost 10%. The egregious lack of financial oversight evidenced by the, so called, financial reports provided to the common council by the recreation dept.

    • Tim Becker says:

      And of course, you have the old saying “we only see what we want to see,” which I think applies here. If one has already made up their mind that the city is a dump and it’s all the mayor’s fault, well that’s all you’ll see. The mayor can list all the progress that’s been made (as above) – I and others can post hundreds of pictures on my FB profile of nice neighborhoods in the city, but they don’t mean anything I guess. Because we have blighted areas, the entire city is a failure, right?

      I think everyone’s had their say here. I appreciate everyone’s comments, even the ones I disagree with, you all have done a fairly good job of sticking to the issues and I appreciate that. I am going to close out comments on this thread. But feel free to continue to comment on future articles, such as the one about the 500k landbank grant 🙂

X