“The mood of the city, I think, is more upbeat,” said Paul Ochal when asked to reflect on his last two years serving as alderman for the second ward. At a recent interview at City Hall, Ochal talked about what has gone right during his term and what he hopes to see in the next two years. He is seeking re-election in November for a second term on the Common Council.
“We seem to be fairly cooperative,” said Ochal, referring to the relationship between the council members and the mayor. “Maybe we just haven’t had any really divisive issues. But everyone here is interested in seeing infrastructure maintained and services provided, which I think is the biggest job the city has.”
Progress on getting the city’s financial records up-to-date and the completion of the first foreclosure in many years were two accomplishments Ochal cited as positive developments for the city and which the Common Council had a role in.
Ochal also said he is hopeful that the city-run ambulance service, which was approved by the council and began in August, will prove to be a good source of revenue for the city. If the numbers for the service are close to what the council had estimated, he said he would be open to looking at adding a second vehicle if it would help realize additional revenue.
Investing in the city’s infrastructure through several bonding resolutions passed over the past two years was another important issue Ochal said he dealt with as part of the council.
In regards to a bonding resolution in August which funded a variety of city projects and new vehicles, Ochal said, “I don’t think there was anything on the list that was just like ‘wish list’ stuff – it was all things that were useful… we cut out things that didn’t have to be done.”
Ochal said that he is pleased that the final pieces of artwork on the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge will soon be installed and that cultural events are drawing people to the city’s riverfront.
“The recreation department is doing a tremendous job with these events. The bridge helps with that,” said Ochal.
Ochal said he was glad to vote for allocating city funds to help the Inman Senior Center, which he called a “very valuable resource” for the city’s senior population because of the variety of programs and events it facilitates.
Continued revitalization of the city’s downtown area is an effort that Ochal says he will continue to support. He pointed to the rehabilitation of the former downtown hotel into an assisted living community, and the pending sale of the former Chalmers property to KCG Development, as two examples of the direction he hopes the city to continue on.
Ochal said he is pleased with the progress that the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency has been making, and sees good cooperation between the agency and Montgomery County.
In regards to the budget, Ochal said that keeping spending under control is something he will focus on.
Citing increasing workman’s compensation insurance and health insurance costs, Ochal said “I have a feeling that’s going to start becoming more of a problem.”
Referring back to a presentation made by Enterprise Fleet Management to the council last year, Ochal said he would like to see the city enter into a lease agreement for city vehicles instead of buying them, replacing vehicles approximately every seven years in order to reduce maintenance costs that increase as each vehicle ages.
He said he was also open to looking at hiring a central purchasing agent for the city, but was unsure if the position would save enough to warrant the cost of the salary.
Ochal said that negative fund balances for both the municipal golf course and the transportation department funds need to be addressed. He said that the golf course “should be self-sustaining at the very least.”
Keeping tax increases to a minimum has been Ochal’s goal for the past two years, and would continue to be his goal if re-elected. However, he does not foresee any tax cuts.
“I know people like to see taxes cut,” said Ochal. “I mean sure, why not, I wouldn’t mind seeing taxes cut, I pay taxes. But that seems something that’s not likely to happen…the best you can hope for is you manage the budget and manage costs the best you can and keep the taxes relatively stable.”
Ochal said the city should not expect overnight transformation, but is happy with the overall direction of the city.
“I think the city’s on a good track,” said Ochal. “As long as we keep getting people coming in instead of going out, obviously.”
Ochal is a long-time Amsterdam resident who graduated from SUNY Albany and previously worked at GE in Schenectady for 25 years. For most of that time he worked in a unit called “government instruction books” which created publications and technical manuals for generators used on U.S. Navy ships. The job entailed fact checking and coordination with engineers to make sure the information in the manuals was accurate, as well as the production of marketing materials for salespeople in the field.
Ochal will appear on the Republican, Conservative, and Independence Party lines on the ballot on November 7. He will face challenger Jim Glorioso on the Democratic Party line.