Speakers at Tuesday’s public hearing on the 2014-2015 budget all voiced opposition to cuts that have been proposed and discussed by the Common Council in previous budget meetings.
Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis spoke first in defense of keeping his staff of one administrative assistant. DeCusatis cited his previous success in finding cost savings and new revenue streams for the city, and said that it would “significantly impact operations” in his department if he were to have to take time to do routine tasks currently handled by his assistant.
Daniel Roginski, who is currently employed as DeCusatis’ assistant, said that he believed elimination of his position would leave the counsel less time to prosecute codes violations and traffic tickets, resulting in decreased revenues for the city.
A number of people spoke in favor of keeping Robert van Hasseln as Director of Economic Development.
Gerald Synder said, “To eliminate that department would be a disservice to the city and the citizens of the city. I know that at times, from an economic standpoint, it is necessary to bite the bullet. But sometimes you have to be careful you don’t shoot ourselves in the foot with that bullet…When an opportunity presents itself, there has to be someone to open that door when it knocks.”
Andrew Brice spoke to defend van Hasseln’s position saying, “When the costs of this office to each one of us is so negligible, the merest fraction of a dollar each year, and it’s potential rewards so substantial then we must understand that the decision to remove it is a political one, not a financial one… Amsterdam is unique. It must have a representative to speak on behalf of that uniqueness or will be lost. It must have one with the knowledge, acumen and passion to connect newcomers to the souls and sinews of this city and Robert van Hasseln has demonstrated all these qualities.”
Robert van Hasseln spoke in defense of his own position saying that potential developers are watching what Amsterdam does.“You’re sending them a signal right now that says we don’t think economic development is worth .002%…of our budget or a nickel and dime out of our typical tax bill,” said van Hasseln, “That’s what you’re saying to the developers just at this critical time.”
VanHasseln also said, “You cannot cut your way to tax relief…the only way we can do it is to build our tax revenues and that’s economic development.”
VanHasseln went on to cite his role in selling the struggling America’s Best Value hotel building and receiving close to $500,000 in back taxes from the new owners.
Dorothy Domkowski cited the various development projects going on in the area such as the pedestrian bridge and that van Hasseln was essential to “pull all these various funding sources, projects, capabilities together.”
“I would hate to see that kind of progress that we’re making – it’s slow progress, but it’s still progress – and I would hate to see that stop. We may regret it. Other cities are going to develop along the canal.”
Domkowski also spoke in support of keeping an assistant position for the Recreation Department, whose responsibilities have included coordinating the various youth sports and arts programs run by the department. “If we take away some of the kinds of programming that is done with our youth, we are going to be back with them on the streets and getting into trouble, I would hate to see that.”
Tammy Merendo also spoke in support of keeping the assistant position saying, “I love the arts center…I love our kids. I understand we need to cut things…I get that…is it really that much we are spending on that?”
Merendo also pointed to significant grant money that the previous assistant had secured for the youth programs to use.
Ladan Alomar, director of Centro Civico said,“I really recommend and request respectfully that for everything you want to cut – make a list of pros and cons. What do you gain, and the price that you pay for those dollars that you cut. Because it’s like taking the oxygen away from a person and expecting [them] to live.”
Mayor Ann Thane spoke last, telling the council,“There’s no fat in our budget. What you are cutting now is bone.”
Thane made a case that the public turnout was indicative that the proposed cuts were in the wrong.
“When there’s a problem with this budget, this room fills up,” she said, referring to past controversial budget issues that have drawn large crowds, “well you have a room filled with people who want to see what’s in this budget stay. I strongly urge you to reconsider these cuts, they’re not necessary. We’re doing a good job with the city and you should be supporting that and working with staff instead of working against us.”