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Villa challenges idea of city “renaissance”

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In response to the mayor of the City of Amsterdam’s recent letter to the editor. Renaissance: “The activity, spirit or time of the great revival of art, literature, and learning in Europe beginning in the 14th century and extending to the 17th century marking the transition from medieval to the modern world”.

During the term of the current mayor, we hear this term being used quite often, as she believes it relates to Amsterdam. We hear the Mayor make reference to it, in print, on social media or local radio. Like the majority of people in the city, I am all for optimism but we all need to stay focused on the facts to move us forward. The city has hundreds of homes that have not been foreclosed on and our current administration has had 7+ years to address this issue and yet, none of us are seeing the results that we should.

While approaching a mayoral election we will all be told repeatedly that our city is moving ahead with some forty foreclosures, yet we have continued to send tens of thousands of dollars to the school district on properties that should have been foreclosed on.

We are seeing press releases from city officials for recent grants and economic development funds. As a resident of the city I enthusiastically applaud all the agencies involved in obtaining these funds including the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development and Planning, Montgomery County Industrial Development Agency, Montgomery County Capital Resource Corporation and also would include our State Legislature and the Governor. Let us not forget  the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency (AIDA), Urban Renewal and the skill and knowledge of individuals like Nick Zabawsky.

The Mayor should be concentrating on the day-to-day operations of the city and not grandstanding or taking ownership of these grants.

We have approximately 24 million dollars of debt, and in the past 7+ years we have yet to see this administration address the numerous requests by both New York State Comptroller office audits as well as those done privately. These requests were made beginning in 2009. Why are we now beginning to address them fully? I am a strong proponent of making our City aesthetically appealing but please don’t ask residents to believe that a walkway and a few “boutiques” are going to be our “Renaissance”. The facts are – we have a growing population of residents at or below the poverty level, a declining tax base and a growing budget. Approximately 70% of all Social Service recipients in the county reside in Amsterdam. Our leadership must become more fiscally responsible, borrowing, bonding, and relying on the state for help are not the answers. We need to fix our infrastructure; cooperate with our neighbors, market our water, put teeth into code enforcement and manage the day-to-day operations of the city. The mayor’s office needs to place confidence in the agencies that get paid to bring economic development to our area. These are my beliefs today, if elected to the Office of the Mayor of our city of Amsterdam and will continue to be should I have that privilege.

Michael J Villa,
Amsterdam, NY

The author is a candidate for mayor of the City of Amsterdam

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23 Responses to Villa challenges idea of city “renaissance”

  1. We’ve made great progress in this city over the past seven years. Our downtown areas on the north and south shores are coming back to life, the water/sewer/storm infrastructure systems have had millions in upgrades, traffic patterns are more sensible, just about a hundred unsafe structures including Chalmers, Brookside and Esquire factories have been demoed, parks and public spaces have been improved, and the city is cleaner than its been in a decade. If someone WON’T see the physical improvements that have been made because of political leanings, I feel sorry for them.

    We’ve borrowed for and invested in critical structures and projects: road improvements, demolitions, infrastructure, equipment and emergency response. Frequently, we borrowed in anticipation of reimbursement. These needs had been left to languish in prior administrations to the point of endangering our residents and employees.

    I’ve posed this question many times to critics of this investment and now to Mr. Villa: What projects would you have NOT invested in?

    I caution our voters to be careful in this upcoming election season. We hear candidates chatter about our problems, but they never tell us how they’d solve them. I’ve always offered step-by-step solutions and I’ve followed through.

    BTW, Mr. Villa should understand that the grants we have receive are not through County entities, though they do a fine job for the rest of the county. As Mayor, I work very closely with city agencies (URA, Land Bank, AIDA and CEDD), often directing the course we take, to get the millions of dollars we’ve taken in. I am a member of the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council’s executive committee and champion the interests of our city, county and region. I’m proud of the millions of dollars I helped to bring to my community and work hard everyday to see that we continue to march in the right direction.

  2. One more thing, Mr. Villa seems to have missed out on my repeated requests for financial accuracy which is well documented online and in the local press. Please see the following link: http://wildthane.wordpress.com/2013/10/26/snapshots/ The good news is that we are on the tail end of this process and I remain optimistic about the outcome. Once the work of straightening out the books is completed (Matt Agresta has been performing in a stellar fashion), the Controller will progress the foreclosure. He tells me his first steps may be as early as this coming Friday.

    QUESTION: do you follow the person that points out problems or do you follow the person that’s done something about them? The city’s finances have been out of wack for over a decade.

    This administration has:
    • called these problems to the attention of the council and the media for six years (documented in writing);

    • WITH THE COOPERATION OF PAST COUNCILS,
    purchased specialized municipal accounting software;

    • WITH THE COOPERATION OF PAST COUNCILS,
    hired outside experts to help unravel the problems;

    • WITH THE COOPERATION OF PAST COUNCILS,
    brought in $24M dollars in grants and stimulus funds to fix infrastructure & equipment, advance huge capital projects, and offset the cost of bonding;

    • WITH THE COOPERATION OF PAST COUNCILS,
    scripted the Corrective Action Plan submitted to the state in order to move past our troubles;

    • WITH THE COOPERATION OF PAST COUNCILS,
    reworked utility fees so that they BENEFIT CITY TAXPAYERS; and

    • INCREASED REVENUE by millions of dollars to the annual budget.

    The FACTS speak for themselves. My administration has proactively handled problems with creativity and action.

    That’s LEADERSHIP.

  3. Robert Stern says:

    I have a couple of questions.
    If a home is foreclosed on by the city, who pays the school taxes? How much of the city budget pays for “social services” and what would a future mayor do to lower the number of people receiving social services?

  4. Robert, the City makes the School District whole for unpaid taxes. We’d like to renegotiate our terms but it is unlikely that the school would change this procedure as State Municipal Law supports this process.

    Our strategy per the Comprehensive Plan is to revitalize our waterfront, industrial sites, neighborhoods and public areas (parks, streets, etc.) We are ideally located on the thruway, river and rail to serve as a bedroom community to the Capital District and our ready water supply and infrastructure still remain the reasons a family/business may locate in Amsterdam.

    In the past few years, five major industries increased their capacities and size though FGI folded due to pressure from global markets. We are working with the Chamber, Fulton and Montgomery Counties and our regional partners to attract new industries and, more importantly, grow existing businesses. There is enormous opportunity in international exporting. We are in discussions with Fulton County to sell water that will inspire more growth along the RT30 corridor and are collaboratively tackling the delivery of transportation service to students, laborers and residents in the Capital District.

    One should never discount the importance of small, retail business to our community either. Twelve businesses have opened up on Main Street and Bridge Street in the past five years in anticipation of the bridge that will be completed by early 2016. Again, this is a vision that was expressed in the Comprehensive Plan of 2004. Bravo to those brave souls that believe enough in this community to venture this investment. They are changing the course of our destiny.

    It’s critically important to play up our many attributes: that we are safe relative to other communities, that we are affordable, that we are a close and caring community, and yes, that we are attractive. The majority of our neighborhoods are beautiful.

    It is endlessly tiresome to have to battle the negative imagery plastered about by a vocal minority. The citizens of Amsterdam on the whole love this community, are proud of its past, and look with optimism toward its future. The folks that I hang with put their backbone behind their enthusiasm and work to make this city the best it may be, via the arts, sports, working with seniors/youth, public service or philanthropy. It’s these qualities that inspire others to come here and invest.

  5. Sorry to have broken away from my last thought. As our regional strategy is to cultivate, attract, and empower skilled workers – a regional economy is only as strong as the level of skilled workforce present and the ability to attract and retain workers is essential to a vision of merit – we are also working with GASD, FMCC, BOCES and Workforce Solutions toward educating our young people and those individuals that may be shifting jobs in this changing global economy. And now that the Casino is coming, there is definite opportunity in the hospitality industries.

    All of what I’ve mentioned above is to create jobs and opportunities for those that live in Amsterdam.

  6. Michael Donnan says:

    “The mayor’s office needs to place confidence in the agencies that get paid to bring economic development to our area.” That would suggest to me that he considers the job the IDA’s and other agencies have been doing over the years is satisfactory and he wouldn’t use the Mayors office to recruit businesses and other development to the city. What a horrible missed opportunity that would be! With all due respect to the men and women who served on the various agencies boards over the years can you honestly say they’ve done a wonderful job bringing economic development to the City? Wouldn’t more be better? And if he’d take a laissez faire approach to the cities economic future what would he do with his time? Make sure the City Clerk isn’t using too many paper clips? It’s 2015, we can’t afford to go back to a low energy executive in City Hall.

    Michael J. Donnan
    Amsterdam N.Y.

  7. Robert Stern says:

    I don’t think the candidate understands that foreclosing more houses will reduce the thousands of dollars paid to the school district and that the responsibility for social services programs is the county’s not the mayor’s.

    • Rob Millan says:

      That’s exactly what I was thinking, Mr. Stern. Perhaps he’ll clarify, as maybe he hasn’t seen your first comment.

    • Luis says:

      Robert & Rob,
      So your suggestion is to not foreclosure on delinquent vacant abandoned buildings and leaving them in a state of limbo and distress? That’s a very bad idea!

      I don’t think you two are aware that whether we foreclose or not foreclosure we City taxpayer’s still have to make the GASD whole?

      • Rob Millan says:

        Luis,
        That’s not my suggestion at all. In fact, there have been countless structures demolished over the past few years. This is a good thing. It attracts investment (as the case with Chalmers and Esquire) and hopefully boosts home values in the surrounding areas.

      • Luis says:

        Rob,

        I don’t believe this statement is correct or fact by you. “In fact, there have been countless structures demolished over the past few years. This is a good thing. It attracts investment (as the case with Chalmers and Esquire) and hopefully boosts home values in the surrounding areas”.

        I share your wishful vision but I don’t believe your stating events correctly. The “countless structures demolished” that you state over the past years, have in fact been overwhelmingly residential not commercial although you state these commercial sites with demo that have attracted investment. Also excessive demolishen is not a good thing, as it thins down the remaining available tax base which means the remaining building stock pays a higher tax burden to cover taxes for the upcoming budget years. Now when you look at residential investment, as I stated they make up the majority in sheer numbers of our demos, there has been little investment afterwards, the last 7 years outside of our public funds.

        This administration prefers to ignore these delinquent abandoned foreclosures (outside of zombie properties), failed in there last foreclosure, and is not correctly fighting what really is a catastrophic issue plaquing our neighborhoods. At the same time, one could say by news accounts/stories this adminastration prefers to champion investment in social services housing like in Highland/Holland Gardens and Roosevelt Townhouses. I say this because when you look back at Robert Sterns original questions above, he asked “what would a future mayor do to lower the number of people receiving social services?” Well Robert your correct it’s a county issye, but Mayor Thane has increased and remodeled the bed capacity and opened the door to the city of amsterdam to more persons living off of social services. While that is good for them and the corporation, it’s not good for us the taxpayers as we are asked to burden more, which is one of the reasons we have this cycle of delinquent residential buildings.

  8. Robert Stern says:

    Meant to say will Not reduce taxes pay to the school district.

  9. diane says:

    The demolitions that have been happening in the past two years are a result of fires and the homeowner takes the insurance money and runs, (if there was any) leaving the city to demo the property. The second reason is that the houses are about to collapse, as the two just demoed on Glen Ave and the city gets stuck with the bill and not the owner. These last two, plus the fire damaged property from Orange St. cost the city 100,000.00 since they all had to go as contaminated material. Houses can sit vacant for only so long before they start to crumble and must be taken down for safety reasons.

    And just for a matter of point, there will be over or close to 650 houses on the foreclosure list later this spring. That is going to be a big project to say the least.

    • Luis says:

      Diane,

      Sorry but the reasons you state as the #1 or #2 reasons why and for that much what has been demoed, is actually only identifying a much smaller problem to what is a much bigger issue. Your missing the much larger reasons behind why people cut and run rather than want to re-invest in our city.

      First this situation of people taken there insurance payoff and leaving us the dilapidated structure to demo is not new in anyway, its been happening for over 20 years and I see no change due to our increasing and crushing residental tax burden. Second, not having a successful code enforcement program, well we read amsterdam is obviously focused on persecution of offenders rather than prosecution in a court of law as our current laws requires for code enforcement administration. Because of this I believe you all feed this continuing plague with your actions. Three, not foreclosing on delinquent abandoned properties is depreciating our property values and making our neighborhoods unsafe as the city ignores a root cause to blight which is leading to an egress of reinvestment.

      You should be focused on the underlying issues leading to understand why people are not re investing there dollars within the city. Its the burdening taxes that has helped feed this egress and we don’t see any release of the current tax accelerator peddle.

      With this said I agree with you on the potential number of future foreclosures. 640 plus buildings should be and must be a top priority to revitalize our depreciating neighborhoods.

  10. Pingback: My Optimism for 2015 Vanishes Within 12 Days | Flippin' Amsterdam NY

  11. Diane says:

    Luis, you are absolutely right, the overall underlying issue is the high taxes. I agree wholeheartedly with that. I was just trying to point out, that recent demos have been for other reasons. We need to get out house in fiscal order and that is what this council has been doing by not spending/bonding. Hopefully we will have numbers and be able to move forward. The foreclosure process must happen first and that has been 7 years in the making. Once we are done with that process, properties sold, then we can look at what is left and decide which ones need to be demoed. Demoing is a good thing, but with every house that comes down, that also decreases our tax base more. That in and of it self is not good, because then you are spreading the costs around to fewer taxpayers. Sadly.

  12. Diane, you are incorrect in stating that the foreclosure has been stymied for seven years. We did one foreclosure in my first term. The second foreclosure has been stalled since Heather Reynicke was in office. This is referenced in my communications to her at the time. Mr. Wierzbicki was unable to progress the foreclosure either. We finally have a Controller that is moving this forward.

    One should note that not all 650 properties on the foreclosure list are anywhere near abandoned or in need of demolition. It is just an initial list of folks that have gotten behind in their payments. They will get several chances to catch up on their obligations. People can pay it all up front or the city will work with people to set up a payment schedule. I have introduced legislation that will reduce the late penalty from 2% to 1%. This should help people too.

    The city portion of property taxes is the smallest slice of the pie when it comes to property taxes. It’s the school taxes and the county taxes that are really crushing us. The city’s share has been relatively stable for years and we’ve added millions in new revenue from a variety of areas to offset this burden on our taxpayers. As recently as this past week, we’ve arranged for $200,000 in savings through a new solar project and last month we saved $125,000 through our solid waste deal with Madison County. I don’t think there’s been another municipality in this county that’s been as creative in finding new ways to augment our budget.

    Luis, the number of cases that make it to court have gone up, not down. Our code enforcement team is out there every day, where they say they’re going to be, actually doing the job they had sworn to do as code enforcement officers. We can count on these guys. They keep very accurate records.

    • Luis says:

      Mayor,

      I didn’t state anything about court cases going up or down. But while we are on it, I was referring to your, bypassing Amsterdam local law where it states code enforcement case violators are to proceed to a competent court of law (city court) after non-compliance. Not an ethics code investigation instead, as you and your corporation counsel manuvered in one recent codes case.

      As for the codes dept. employees, I know they are doing the best they can, under a load of blight dropped on their laps over years of city mismanagement. As far as your mismanagement of your code enforcement program, I’ll use Alderwoman Hatzenbuhler as one example. Here a building code violator, because they they did work without first obtaining a building permit, is persecuted by your appointed Ethics committee publically rather than following local building code law, designed to address these matters in the best unbiased means, by processing the code violator to the NYS consolidated court system (city court) for a fine and remedial action.

      That example speaks volumes of the direction of the code enforcement dept. administration and enforcement, under your watch.

      You are correct in telling Alderwoman Hatzenbuhler that you held only (1) foreclosure proceedings in 7 yrs. Although you will need to admit to spearheading the selling of approx. 50 structures to (1) un-proven, so called developer in that last foreclosure. And that they returned the vast majority of them purchases back to the city for a total failure of the proceedings. Also it is not right of you to publicly perceive the notion that the city controller is solely responsible for delinquant tax foreclosures. Remember the codes dept. needs the time to conduct inspections as well as have the structures maintained, winterized and secured and/or placed on the demo list.

      How much planning has been put in place for this important undertaken?

    • Tim Becker says:

      Luis, we already spent significant time in a previous thread debating about codes violations vs ethics violations. I had thought you had come to the understanding that they are two separate cases. Let’s not rehash that whole argument again, thanks.

  13. Diane says:

    My apologies mayor the last auction was in 2010. Those properties were from 2008 and previous, since two years must pass before a foreclosure is done.

  14. Luis, the 40 properties that you refer to were sold at public auction. I did not spearhad the sale to any particular individuals or organizations.

    I did not persecute the alderwoman. Her neighbor took his complaint to the Ethics Board without my input. The Board acted independently. They did not query me or ask for my direction. They did, however, interview all of the involved parties. Their decision came about after careful deliberation. They are better suited to answer any questions or concerns you may have as they had been directly involved.

    As far as court action in regard to this matter: that is up to the discretion of the Code Enforcement Officer. Apparently, compliance was their goal, not persecution.

    I think our codes department is doing a very good job given the decades of decline this city has seen. The three enforcement officers we have on staff now are HONEST, experienced and able. They work closely with the engineering, fire and permitting departments, and steadily manange their load. Could we use more officers? Yes. Should we have more a more up-to-date and efficient code enforcement tracking system, given the wonderful software out there today? Yes. We are working with Schenectady and the Center for Technology and Growth to develop systems that will allow us to share information across municipal borders. That may have helped us with the WHPO long ago, but we focus on what we may do about today’s problems.

    The process of foreclosure is such that the Office of the Controller must first produce a list of property owners that are behind in their taxes. We have been waiting for this since 2011. I have numerous emails requesting this from past controllers. Matt Agresta is finally able to produce this and we will be into this foreclosure in the very near future, thank goodness.

  15. Luis says:

    Mayor,

    No this statement re: WHPO Is all wrong by you.
    “Yes. We are working with Schenectady and the Center for Technology and Growth to develop systems that will allow us to share information across municipal borders. That may have helped us with the WHPO long ago,”.

    The WHPO was not at all a part of the housing bubble and inflating rents to raise valuations, in Amsterdam, Gloversville & Schenectady. This is what helped fuel a large abandonment but not all. I believe the Attorney General coined zombie properties from this event. That was all orchestrated by one of many, yet one specifically organized group out of Monroe, NY. I know I’m one of the local people who caught on early to the scam before the Attorney General got involved.

  16. Luis says:

    Mayor,

    Actually, a well organized code enforcement dept. with experienced leadership and properly trained personnel. Would already have a rough list of delinquent and problematic properties through the last 5 years of codes activities.

    While the 2 dept.’s develope list for different reasons, if the two dept.’s collaborated over the last 5 years, you would not be wasteing your time sending e-mails and waiting as the clock ticks for a list, as you state.

    I can tell as an 18 yr. CEO, your codes Dept is not functioning efficiently or effectively as intented, under the city charter or local law, while under your poor oversight.