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Council weighs risks of assisting Concordia project

Whether or not to provide financing for the construction of water and sewer lines to the Concordia Senior Communities project was one of the issues discussed by members of the Amsterdam Common Council, Mayor, Controller and Corporation Counsel at a committee meeting Monday afternoon. Mayor Ann Thane proposed that the city secure a Bond Anticipation Note (BAN) to construct the lines, and impose an additional tax on the property to offset payments on the debt.

Concordia Senior Communities will be an assisted living center to be built near River Ridge Living Center which is located on the south side of the city. The project has secured funding for the construction of the facility but not for the extension of city water and sewer lines to the property. The construction of the lines is estimated to be approximately $500,000.

Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis explained, “The city would pay for the extension. The cost of the debt service and the principal for the extension would be paid for by an ad velorum tax on the property that is benefited. There would be no net impact on the city budget.”

DeCusatis said the initial BAN would be converted into a bond and most likely be repaid over the course of 10 to 15 years.

Alderman Ron Barone expressed reluctance about the idea, citing concerns about the risk to the city and suggested looking at other funding options for the project. Thane said that since construction was scheduled to begin soon, that applying for other grants or loans would take too much time and hold the project up.

Thane asked Barone, “Do you want to squash this project?”

“I don’t care,” said Barone, who later said he was not serious about that remark.

“It’s 125 really good paying jobs and added tax base, I don’t know why you wouldn’t consider this,” said Thane.

“I don’t want to pay for it, we don’t have the money for it,” said Barone.

“But you are not paying for it,” said Thane. “It is zero impact on your budget.”

DeCusatis explained that in the event the project failed, the value of the property, estimated at around $20 million, would secure the loan. He explained that because the property was obligated to repay the city via a property tax, that if the organization went bankrupt, the city would be “first in line” to be reimbursed before any other of the organization’s loans or other obligations.

DeCusatis said that a tax district would have to be set up for the area that would benefit from the project. “This property is going to have to pay this charge,” said De Cusatis.

“[Montgomery County Business Development Center CEO] Ken Rose is strongly suggesting the city pursue this avenue,” said Thane.

“Why can’t Ken come up with the money?” asked Barone.

“Let them deal with it, financially we can’t afford to deal with it right now,” said Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler.

“Why can’t [the Amsterdam Industrial Developement Agency] handle it?” asked Barone. “Look to see if they can find a bond for them…or look for a grant.”

“They can’t get another grant for this, they’ve already gotten a grant for the capital build out, water isn’t included in this.” said Thane. “They want to begin construction almost immediately.”

“I would think they would have come before this council before now,” said Barone. “If all this work is being done…they’ve precluded us up until this point. Now all of a sudden we’ve got to jump into an action that I don’t know whether I want to [do] or not.”

“All of this funding…could have been done through [AIDA],” said Barone, referring to how Concordia went to Montgomery County for funding assistance rather than through AIDA.

“Ken caught the project, what are you going to do?” asked Thane.

“And now he’s going to us,” said Barone.

Hatzenbuhler expressed concern over the amount of debt the city currently owes. “We still we don’t know where we are.”

Controller Matthew Agresta answered, “You keep saying ‘we don’t know where we are’ like we’re driving lost in the woods. We can’t necessarily justify ‘up to current’ certain things that you want to know. But we have another, I believe, $20 million we could take on in debt service given our financial situation. So a $500,000 bond is not something that we can’t do.”

“If you can bring in a $20 million project that’s not only going to bring in jobs, but the revenue from the water and sewer that we’re building, that’s only going to improve our position in the future,” said Agresta.

“I’ve listened to this many times before and I’ll take you around and show you all the empty buildings with all these people putting all these big things in,” said Barone. He cited several examples of projects that had failed in the past. “All these big people that come into Amsterdam and come into Montgomery County are going to do everything and then bango they up and leave and we’re stuck with all these white elephants.”

“Ok, so you don’t want to do this?” asked Thane.

“I’m not saying that,” said Barone.

“I’d rather drill this back down then, and hear what you want to do,” said Thane.

“If it’s done right, I have no problem with it,” said Barone.

* A previous version of this article referred to the project in question as “Deer Run”. This was the name referred to at the meeting. However, the correct name of the project is Concordia Senior Communities.

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About Tim Becker

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

44 Responses to Council weighs risks of assisting Concordia project

  1. Pingback: Everything You Wanted to Know About Why No Developers Invest in Amsterdam | Flippin' Amsterdam NY

  2. This new process started by Mayor Thane of holding public meetings at a time and place not accessible by the general public, violates the intent and purpose of the NYS Open Meetings Law. This point was further defined by an advisory opinion (OML-AO-3828) issued by the NYS Committee on Open Government, concerning public meetings held during business hours when the majority of the general public could not attend.

    Public meetings should be held for the convenience of the public, not the bureaucrats.

    • Tim Becker says:

      At the meeting, the time for upcoming meetings was changed to 5:15pm.

      • It’s not just the Committee of the Whole meetings Tim. Two public meetings for changes in the charter (Local Law A and Local Law B) were held on January 26, 2015 at 9:00am and 9:10am.

        There is something disingenuous about holding public hearings when the public can not attend, which gives the appearance of impropriety.

        This policy should be halted immediately.

    • Diane says:

      Could not agree more Jerry 🙂 The mayor is allowed to call for a committee of the whole, but you are right, it should be done so people can attend. She truly believes that the council chambers is for theater and not the work of the common council………

  3. I requested that the meeting be held in my office so that we could all sit face-to-face at the table rather than around the dais which is much less intimate.

    The meeting was held at an earlier hour so that we could tie up as close to the end of the work day as possible. We are all busy and many of us are out at evening meetings for most nights of the week. We have families and lives outside of this sphere that we all miss. The timing of this meeting was to alleviate that stress.

    The public is welcome to attend these meetings. My office can seat 14 people. If there are not enough seats to accommodate all of us, we can easily relocate.

    I appreciate the Council members taking time to talk with me on a weekly basis. It is my hope that we will improve communication between our branches of government and that the process will be improved.

    There is nothing nefarious about this meeting.

    • I am surprised that no one wishes to discuss what went on at the meeting.
      That is of greater concern to me.

      • Rob Millan says:

        I’m not surprised some people would be more concerned with the venue of the meeting than the agenda of the meeting.

      • Let’s see, $500,000…. isn’t that the SFA grant amount you prioritized for art work on the yet to be built pedestrian bridge and a facelift for City Hall instead of investing in this project Mayor? Yet you blame the Council for not wanting the city to go further in debit with this project.

    • What was “nefarious” about the special meeting is the fact that the Mayor failed to follow established rules appropriately set by the Common Council for special meetings. Notification with written agenda is required greater than 24 hours in advance of the meeting. Since it also falls under NYS Open Meetings Law, now that is has been scheduled a week ahead of time, public notice is also required. Presenting information at the meeting without notice to the Aldermen, with the press recording their initial reactions is
      sneaky and underhanded. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Special meeting rules are soon revised with a time and place added.
      “Special Council meetings. Special meetings of the Common Council may be held on the call of the Mayor or the call of two or more Council members. Notice to the Council members of the special meeting must be in writing, in the form of a copy of the agenda containing the text of all resolutions. Notice of the meeting may be either personally delivered greater than 24 hours prior to the meeting, sent by first-class mail posted at least five days prior to the meeting date to the Council members’ places of residence, or sent by electronic mail to the designated electronic mail address of the Council member greater than 24 hours prior to the meeting. No resolutions, ordinances or local laws other than those listed in the notice may be acted upon, except by unanimous consent of all five Council members. The notice requirements above may be waived by unanimous consent of all five Council members.”

  4. diane says:

    Once again this is about the mayor controlling things, by requiring we meet in her office for a more intimate setting………We have a common council chamber where we can all meet. We were not given an advance agenda, yet everything that was discussed could have been done so in a typical COW meeting held before a council meeting, which would bring more people out. In addition some of this could have been dispersed thru the email system. The only time we get emails from the mayor is to tell us we are not parking in the right spot or did something else wrong……nothing new here.

    • Tim Becker says:

      Complaining about what room you meet in is just blatant obfuscation of the fact that between yourself and Barone, you pretty much extended a big middle finger to River Ridge, Ken Rose, and any future developer who may be be following the news. There were legitimate concerns and risks with this deal, but instead of bringing them up professionally, you acted like cranky children trying to get out doing your chores. That behavior is inexcusable and you know it. And now you want to deflect the attention by complaining about the room and scheduling tussles. Your comments are absolutely ridiculous and the people of Amsterdam deserve better, especially when dealing with $20 million development bringing in 120 jobs and additional revenue to the city.

      I have to laugh too, because you could have supported Charter Revision #1 to remove the mayor from the common council, thus saving you from this horrid abuse she’s inflicting on you by holding committee meetings in her office. But you didn’t 🙂

  5. Diane says:

    Tim, I said that the county should handle the whole project. We may have a 20 million dollar ceiling for bonding, but we still are two years out. Bonds, grants have not been reconciled and the last auditor said we were spending more than we were taking in. Seems to me, until we have final numbers and know who and what we owe, verses our revenue, I am still of the opinion we should not be bonding.

    I support the project as all of us on the council do. But, should the city be taking on this additional obligation until we have final numbers? If Ken Rose and the county can handle the financing or the IDA, them maybe they should handle it……And I am a big supporter of Ken Rose and everything that he does for the city.

  6. Just to correct misinformation being propagated here:

    Our debt limit is 7% ($32,925,284) of our full valuation. Our full valuation is $2,351,805,972. Water debt, budgeted appropriations and sewer debt are excluded. Right now, our net indebtedness is at $12,414,513, which is 37.7% of our debt ceiling. We can comfortably borrow $20,669,771 given these figures which were provided by our Controller.

    No plan. No action. No good.

    • rogo says:

      According to state records as of 3/31/2013 our short term BANs were $16,567,777 (state exam 2013m-266), but I may be wrong but these are only short term BANs, what is the total dollar amout that we owe under long term bonds.

    • Luis says:

      Mayor,

      Interesting choice of election words “No plan. No action. No good”.

      After today’s news on foreclosures, it’s apparent that going into this meeting, you planned, got action and it’s no good. As you state “I called this meeting in my office so that we could all sit face-to-face at the table rather than around the dais which is much less intimate”. So going into this meeting, plus your financial numbers posted above, you failed and neglected to state anything about the fact that “$13.39 million in back taxes is owed to the City” in order to manipulate city business.

      I’m for this project before you accuse me of not being for what can be a good project but the way you do the publics business by withheld critical information while still knowingly demanding the common council spend money based on financial numbers you state is truly blatant obfuscation .

      • Tim Becker says:

        Luis – the common council has access to the controller and all the city financials. Saying the mayor “withheld” information is preposterous. If the council didn’t know, then it’s because after 12 months in office, they never asked. What does that say? The arguments that you and Jerry are raising hold no water. The deal will not impact on the budget whatsoever. It will result in a net inflow of revenue through sewer and water fees and the PILOT agreement. Grants received, the amount of back taxes, and the amount of debt are simply not factors in the equation. But you all will continue to throw these baseless ideas out until something sticks. Oh joy!

      • The owner of the River Ridge Complex and proposed expansion Paul Guttenberg, who purchased the property in 2013, has already received 1 million dollars from NYS in economic development grants, a sales tax exemption and a PILOT. Now they want the City of Amsterdam to bond for $500,000 and install improved water and sewer lines to accommodate this business, for which they will, be paid back in installments, a legal way for a municipality to loan money to a private business. Amsterdam is a financial mess, after a failed NYS audit, still does not know how much money it has in fund balance. Because of poor leadership, the city has not foreclosed on property or sold surplus property in over 5 years and is owed 13.39 million dollars in back taxes. The Controller is responsible to see that delinquent tax notices are published in the local paper and collected annually. Foreclosed property owned by the city must be sold, per Section C-133 of the Charter, surplus property must be sold at public auction within 6 months of acquisition. Because of poor management, none of this has been accomplished in 5 years resulting in hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars going to the Amsterdam School district unnecessarily as the city guarantees school taxes.

        Meanwhile, other local startups that would create new jobs in the city were denied economic stimulus grants or any other financial aid from the city. This project was developed by Montgomery County Business Development Center and any further financial aid should come from the county, not the cash strapped city.

    • diane says:

      While the numbers stated by the mayor may be correct, we have over 13 million in uncollected taxes; we have not filed the AUD for 2012-2013 or the AUD for 2013-2014; we have an audited financial statement form 2012 that states that we do not have enough revenue to support the expenses we currently had back then. The city has bonded at least twice and maybe three times since that audit, so we really do not know who or what we owe, and the mayor wants us to sign off on a 500,000.00 ban just like that. We have not had an update on this project in 6 months, which has had some changes. There has been more than enough time for corp counsel to draft several different scenarios for the council to review and discuss. It is not our duty to do his job.

      • Tim Becker says:

        Diane – please tell me specifically how any of those factors relate to the decision as to whether or not to enter into this deal which will net the city increased revenue through sewer and water fees and a PILOT program. Specifically – is there a certain level of back taxes at which you would approve the deal or not approve it? Given the level of back taxes, don’t you think it’s even more important to expedite a project that would bring up in more revenue? Unless you can make an intelligent argument that links your opposition to funding this project to any of the factors you listed, I don’t think there’s any other way to look at it other than a giant smokescreen to cover up some very unprofessional behavior.

        I have to wonder, if Matt Ossenfort or Ken Rose were the ones to have presented this deal before the council, would there have such a backlash from you and Barone?

    • Tim Becker says:

      Jerry – I would submit the same question to you as I did to Diane below.

      Also, just to set the record straight – the project is no longer referred to as “Deer Run” or being operated by River Ridge. It was referred to that at the meeting. However, the entity that is operating this project now is called “Concordia Senior Communities”.

      http://www.concordiaseniorcommunities.com/project-info/amsterdam-2/amsterdam-site-plan/

      • I really doesn’t matter what they are calling it now or who is developing or running it. The owner remains the same and the grants, pilots and sales tax exemption are still in place. Again, why didn’t the County Executive go to either Montgomery County IDA or Amsterdam IDA, since they woul be the appropriate agencies to handle something like this. The city should not be in the business of indirectly giving out loans to private businesses.

  7. Luis says:

    Tim,

    You act as if the common council is given the same access to city information as the Mayor is given at City Hall. I can tell you they don’t. Not sure how many years you worked there but I can count 13 for me. Two under a gag order imposed by Mayor Thane.

    Its pretty well documented Tim, how obstructive this Mayor can be and will be, not to mention aggressive. There is nothing happening that she doesn’t know about and obviously she’s working closely with the Controller and has far more access to information since she’s down the hall from his office.

    • Tim Becker says:

      So did the council ask for the information and not receive it? If they did, cite your source, and then maybe you can claim the mayor “withheld critical information”. Otherwise your claim is completely baseless. Also please state how that in any way relates to this deal.

  8. Per the Charter, which is the law of the land in the City of Amsterdam, the Council has access to all of the financial information they desire. I do not control the flow of information from the Controller to any alderman that asks for it. The scenario proposed above is just silly.

    • Luis says:

      Mayor,

      Your correct to refer to the Charter, but I bring your attention to:
      Article IV. The Mayor and Acting Mayor it reads
      Charter: C-36. Powers and duties.
      [Amended 2-1-1994 by L.L. No. 1-1994; by L.L. No. 5-2004, ref. date 11-2-2004; 8-20-2013 by L.L. No. 3-2013]
      In addition to other powers, duties and responsibilities assigned to the Mayor by this Charter or by law, the Mayor shall have the following powers and duties:
      G.
      To keep the Council fully informed at all times of the financial condition and needs of the City and to recommend such measures as the Mayor deems necessary to assure and protect its fiscal integrity.

  9. Luis says:

    Tim,

    I would have to ask the council that question for you to give you that answer.

    Did the Mayor our CEO tell us the public, of this $13.39 mil. owed in back taxes to the city?

    • Tim Becker says:

      So basically, you admit you made an accusation without any factual basis. This is what I am sick and tired of Luis. Please do not throw out unfounded accusations in your comments.

      • Luis says:

        Tim,

        I admit to knowing the charter as it is the responsibity of the Mayor to provide all financial information to the council and with answers as to how this pending foreclosure and debt will effect the cities finances, to protect its fiscal integrity.
        As per the charter: C-36 Mayors responsibility.
        G.
        To keep the Council fully informed at all times of the financial condition and needs of the City and to recommend such measures as the Mayor deems necessary to assure and protect its fiscal integrity.

        Not as you and the Mayor are twisting around the charter as she states: “Per the Charter, which is the law of the land in the City of Amsterdam, the Council has access to all of the financial information they desire. I do not control the flow of information from the Controller to any alderman that asks for it. The scenario proposed above is just silly.”

      • Tim Becker says:

        You’ve accused the mayor of “withholding” information without providing any basis for that position. Additionally, you’ve not proven how that information would have any bearing on the decision as to whether or not to fund the project. There’s absolutely no logic to these arguments. It’s just throwing a bunch of junk into the situation hoping it distracts people from the fact two of our elected officials just sent a very damaging message to Concordia and any other developers who are paying attention. Please see the letter from Matt Ossenfort and comments from Ken Rose in the most recent story I posted.

      • Luis says:

        Tim,

        I already told you my feelings on this project. I don’t need to read someone else’s letter that I would agree with.

        Your attempt to placard me as against this project is useless because it’s not true nor have I stated that.

        As I said the Mayor has failed to live up to the charter, as she has not abided by C-36G.

        You just want to blame the council for everything that is wrong (not that someone may not warrent additional criticism) while ignoring the city charter and proper protocol. At least the Controller stepped up and told the council what is going on. That cannot be said for the Mayor.

      • Luis says:

        Tim,

        The city has around a $27 mil. budget after yesterday’s news it is $13.39 mil. in the hole, for non-payment of taxes. Money the city doesn’t have. The books are not balanced.

        What fiscally sound right minded persons would blindly spend another 1/2 a million dollars without pausing and demanding answers to current finances before spending a penney more.

        While I don’t agree with the hold up, if its even a hold up. Because it will take less time to run mains then it will be to complete the overall project. The timing of the debt news has to make sound minded people question current financial figures before moving forward in order to make sound financial decisions.

      • Tim Becker says:

        “Your attempt to placard me as against this project” – never once said anything remotely like that Luis. That’s yet another baseless accusation thrown out without any regard toward logical reasoning or facts, as seems to be the pattern here.

      • Tim Becker says:

        Again, you fail to show any reason why the back taxes have any bearing on whether we should approve a $500,000 loan, the payments on which will be covered for us. If it’s so plain and obvious to any “right minded person”, then explain it.

      • Tim Becker says:

        And let’s go back to the original dialogue that started this whole thing. No one’s criticizing the council for “pausing” or asking questions. Hatzenbuhler and Barone flat out said they didn’t want to do it. It’s the way they have conducted themselves which is the problem and sends exactly the wrong message to developers.

  10. Luis says:

    Tim,

    I didn’t hear that Hatzenbuhler is against the project. Maybe she is?

    I know there are 5 alderpersons who vote not two. So three could be yes and then it passes.

    Have you checked into this because three yeses passes as a majority. No one has voted on anything in order for there to be some form of blame at this time.

    Let’s have a council vote on the issue and put it to rest, one way or another. Then I can see you placing blame. Not now at this time but it does make for conversation.

    • Tim Becker says:

      “I don’t want to pay for it, we don’t have the money for it,” said Barone.

      “Let them deal with it, financially we can’t afford to deal with it right now,” said Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler.

      • Luis says:

        Tim,

        I still don’t read anything that states that when its presented to them they will vote it down. No where above.

        Your assuming those two will vote against it.

        Your also assuming the council as a whole will vote against it.

      • Tim Becker says:

        No Luis, I didn’t. Please re-read my articles. I stated they voiced opposition to it. In both articles on this issue I mentioned that at the end of the meeting that Barone indicated he would vote for it if he was ok with the terms. The damage was in the statements that both made during the meeting, which was reported by the Compass and the Recorder both and what that message sent to developers, present or future. Read Ossenfort’s letter as to why this is a problem, he states it better than I did.

  11. Luis says:

    Tim, you are correct this squabbling is a problem, we can all agree on that. We know this, although we won’t agree it’s been a problem for just over 7 years now in the worse way. And it was bad before Mayor Thane became Mayor.

  12. Anthony Biviano says:

    If Concordia development has any connection with George Amedore as rumor has it, it would explain Matt Ossenfort’s enthusiasm for the project…the concerns of the residents in the area of the project have largely been ignored….the Zoning board was in the tank for the Deer Run Project from day one…residents be damned! Typical of the modus operandi in our fair city…. the scope of this project has changed dramatically since it was first presented last year, it is my opinion that the entire project be scrapped and the zoning variance process should start anew…this time allowing adequate time for public comment! I will, however, not be holding my breath….as a lifelong resident of the city, I know how the game is played. Historically, by the time residents become aware of a project of any kind it is already a fait accompli…small town politics is alive and well and living in Amsterdam!

    • Luis says:

      Anthony,

      I definitely don’t disagree with you on our past and current developments and how they’re accomplishmented from the public eyes. Today we still lack transparency in our gov’t here.

      Having knowledge of this process as I am a Zoning Officer myself. In order for a Zoning Bd. to vote against a project especially on variances they have to follow specific criteria and the project must fail the criteria. The most important is whether the project has a negative impact, that has not been mitigated.

      What specifically is it that concerns the neighbors in order for the ZBA to vote it down legally. Is it stormwater management? Is there no (SWPPP) Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan? or something else?
      Otherwise I would have to assume it meets the code and that’s why it passed.

      • Anthony says:

        Luis….The only means of access to the facility is either via Florida Ave. to Queen Anne Rd. or Rte. 5S to Broadway Ext. to Queen Anne Rd and onto Sandy Drive. If we are indeed talking about 120 employees over 3 shifts and approx. 100 residents exclusive of the 64 Memory care units each with automobiles and visitors coming and going, also let’s not forget service vehicles, tractor trailers negotiating a difficult turn providing food delivery, waste removal, including medical waste…..you get the picture, the traffic situation will be more of a nightmare than it is now! The area that will bear the brunt of the traffic will be Queen Anne Rd. A once quiet neighborhood, that I bought into will be destroyed forever……………B

  13. Luis says:

    Anthony, OK traffic with access to and from the location. That is an area that I can see being of great concern especially at that intersection and has significant merits under SEQRA.

    You say the ZBA didn’t listen, please understand I know there is a lack of transparency at city hall today and a lack of freedom to speak freely. I don’t see residents today (not that it’s been much better in the past) getting help from city hall the way they should, to work through the layers of regulations that apply and are important yet complex when it comes to planning and zoning like this. You folks will be living their after it’s built.

    Your concerns are not done from being heard. The ZBA was not really the place to focus them on this topic. Although Amsterdam is unique in how they don’t require Planning to first review and then approve the whole project. The way it’s written here it allows for disorder. A unique technic that allows for disorder and manipulation of the process of the proceedings if there is a variance involued. In order words who’s on first ZBA or PB? Lawyer’s love grey area.

    The City of Amsterdam Planning Bd. is where this issue should of been heard for mitigation. They are charged with approving the Site Plan for the project under the charter. I have not been following this project as it’s worked it’s way throughout the process. If it has passed the Planning Bd. and this hasn’t been mitigated/corrected, you still have the Montgomery County Planning Board. Go to the meeting and when the floor opens have residents speak their concerns, these opportunities still exist. For one, traffic study must be done worse case scenario as a group if you don’t feel you have been heard, speak to an qualified Attorney to review the process as to whether it’s complete.

    Note, the County Planning Bd. has procedures to follow of course, one being determining county-wide significance, and others that will keep me writing. To make my point if the County Planning Bd. finds, it in-complete or finds the need for further study or adds requirements it will be kicked back to the City of Amsterdam Planning Board, given residents another opportunity to be heard on their concerns. This should be a working document when it comes to environmental concerns and the final document must maintain a good quality of life for all.