Council builds consensus on capital projects

Common Council members took a step forward in the process to approve borrowing for capital projects at a Finance Committee meeting last night. Council members, along with other city officials and department heads, went through a list of nearly 100 different projects of varying size, with Controller Matt Agresta taking note of their consensus on each item. The list of projects totals approximately $4.4 million, however the council agreed to hold off on some of the projects or wait on others to get more information and discuss further.

Members agreed to move forward on several public safety related projects including a study to fix the public safety building’s air handlers, upgrading the police departments computer network, purchase of new copiers and scanners to handle records management, and additional wireless security cameras. Council members also agreed on a project to install additional laptop computers in the city’s patrol cars which they hope will pay for itself in a few months time with increased ticket revenue.

A project totaling $100,000 to replace the garage doors and openers on the public safety building was also green-lighted, which according to Fire Chief Michael Whitty, will increase the heat efficiency of the building and comply with OSHA standards. According to Whitty, the current garage doors will not stop automatically if a vehicle is in their path. The council held off on purchasing a new rescue/recovery boat as well as a new utility truck for the fire department.

For the Department of Public works, the council agreed on purchasing a new sewer jet truck for $220,000 and a vacuum excavation truck for $260,000, as well as several other pickup trucks. They also agreed to purchase an asphalt hot box, which will help in the repair of potholes during the winter season.

The council held off on a proposal to purchase a “split packer” garbage truck until they could hear more information. The truck would allow a single operator to pick up garbage in certain areas of the city. The total cost of the truck and garbage cans is approximately $700,000. According to Mayor Ann Thane, the truck would also allow the city to offer garbage pickup services to surrounding areas as well as to the Woodrow Wilson apartment complex, which all currently utilize private contractors. Other benefits cited by Thane included increased frequency of recycling pickups and some sanitation workers could be reassigned to other areas in DPW.

Council members agreed to $500,000 to demolish city owned properties as well as $100,000 to stabilize other viable city owned properties requiring repair. Other infrastructure projects given the green light included a NY State mandated inspection of the city’s sewer system, demolition of the reservoir dam near Brookside Avenue, re-paving of the city library parking lot, repair of light poles on the Route 30 bridge, and other improvements to the city’s sewer and water system.

The council also agreed on $514,000 to extend the city’s water and sewer lines to the future site of the Concordia Senior Communities project on the south side. Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis said he is in the process of negotiating a deal with the developers of the project to establish a special tax zone on the property which would offset the city’s cost to fund the work.

Community and Economic Development Director Rob von Hasseln presented a case for borrowing $325,000 to ensure the city could use a matching grant from NY State to build several artistic elements into the new pedestrian bridge which is scheduled for completion later this year. The elements include “Amsterdam” lettering on each side of the bridge, a “story mark” or “compass” design which along with other engravings on the bridge’s surface, would depict elements of Amsterdam’s history, and a depiction of the historic “wheel of life” design. According to von Hasseln, the elements would make the visitor’s experience more memorable. Von Hasseln said he hoped the improvements would bring in a 10% increase in visitor traffic which could mean an increase in approximately $700,000 per year in revenue for local businesses. He added that the engravings on the bridge’s surface would have to go in during construction and would not be feasible to add later on. Council members held their approval on the project and said they would look at it again at a future committee meeting.

At the end of the meeting, Fire Chief Michael Whitty introduced a plan for providing ambulance services to city residents in order to bring in an estimated $500,000 in revenue for the city. The plan would replace the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps (GAVAC) as the primary ambulance provider in the city. According to Whitty, GAVAC currently serves the entire Montgomery County area and has plans to expand in Fulton County. Mayor Ann Thane proposed that the city borrow $180,000 to purchase two ambulances in order to provide the service. According to Whitty, the only additional cost to the city was to maintain a constant seven person crew, which he expects would run approximately $80,000 annually.

“GAVAC has been here for 40-50 years…I don’t want to be putting them out of business,” said Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler. According to Hatzenbuhler, the same issue had come up in the past and that city residents had chosen to stay with GAVAC in a referendum approximately ten years ago.

Thane said her primary concern was the city’s finances. She said,“Ten years ago, the economy was very different, the city’s position was very different, the opportunity to do this 10 years ago was very different. And now this has become a state-wide practice. So things have radically changed in ten years.”

Council members agree to discuss the issue again at a future committee meeting. Members also agreed to wait to discuss capital projects for the municipal golf course with the course superintendent.

Tim Becker

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