Politics trumps fiscal responsibility in Common Council’s Muni stance

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The three new Republican Common Council members all ran on a platform of improving fiscal responsibility in dealing with Amsterdam’s finances. However if the council goes ahead with it’s veto override in regards to Municipal Golf Course contracts, it will be a political victory for the Republicans, but a loss for the taxpayers.

Republicans have traditionally championed the concept of competition within the free market system as a main ingredient in the recipe for economic growth. I believe this as well. That’s why it’s baffling to me to see the Republican dominated council steering us in the exact opposite direction, especially as the very first major issue they’ve dealt with this year.

According to the Executive Summary included in Mayor Ann Thane’s veto letter, the RFP for the position Course Professional/General Manager preferred by the Mayor and the Golf Commission projects an additional revenue stream of at least $50,000 per year for the life of the 5 year contract. The long-time Course Pro’s RFP contains nothing of the sort. I haven’t heard an argument yet from the Republicans disputing the income projections or the proposed business plan in the preferred RFP. Basically their argument boils down to “Joe’s a nice guy, let’s keep him.” I hardly think this is the type of fiscal responsibility that voters expected of them.

The Council’s stance so far has sent a clear political message: Republicans are in charge now. Political maneuvering is a necessary evil sometimes, but when it comes at the expense of taxpayers, thinking people of any party persuasion need to speak out. I believe this is one of those times.

There is one perspective that has been brought up in the comments of The Compass by supporters of keeping the current Course Pro that I believe deserves some additional thought:  that the Muni brings benefits to the community beyond revenue. I couldn’t agree more with that. I don’t think anyone minds if Arnold Ave or Kirk Douglas parks don’t generate profits. We don’t expect them to. They benefit the community by improving our quality of life. While Riverlink Park and Veteran’s Field have the potential to bring in revenue, their benefit to the community is also understood be primarily cultural and recreational. The golf course certainly benefits our community in the same way. (I certainly hope these same folks remember this concept when issues surrounding the new pedestrian bridge come up.) However, I don’t think that argument is grounds for purposely nixing a plan that could benefit the taxpayers by a total of $250,000 over 5 years.

While we’re comparing parks, let’s talk about Shuttleworth Park for bit and the baseball team that utilizes it. I’m not aware of any numbers that prove the park is making a profit or not, but we should take a look at the job Brian Spagnola, General Manager of the Amsterdam Mohawks is doing there*. When baseball season starts, you can’t drive anywhere in Amsterdam without knowing when the next game is because there are signs everywhere. The Mohawks promote their events through every media outlet and make full use of their website, Facebook and Twitter to get their message out and build their fan base. They regularly hold special promotions and events. Over the past years, they have built up a large network of local, regional and national sponsors. They make full use of their facilities by offering to host birthday parties and other special events.

To be clear, the Amsterdam Mohawks are not owned and operated by the city, so we can’t make a direct comparison. But in my opinion, the job they do sets a great example as to the level of effort we should expect from our Course Pro. I believe the golf course has huge untapped potential. For the sake of the taxpayers, the Common Council should not squander that potential for the sake of political gain.

* Disclosure: Anthem Websites Inc, publisher of The Mohawk Valley Compass, provides web site services to the Amsterdam Mohawks.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.