Capital projects: the good, the bad, and the ugly


The good: The Amsterdam Common Council has agreed (verbally at least) to go ahead and borrow just over $3 million to fund critical infrastructure maintenance as well as essential vehicles and equipment the city needs to provide basic services. Let the record show that this council was not coerced or brainwashed by anyone into spending frivolously as it’s been alleged of councils in the past. It’s clear the council wasn’t eager to borrow the money but did so because they looked at the same facts the mayor and department heads were looking at and agreed that funding the projects was the best thing for the future of the city. I believe they did the right thing.

The bad: Missing from the approved list was matching funds for a NY State grant to add artistic elements to the Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook pedestrian bridge. So it looks like that grant will go unused unless the matching funds can be found somewhere else. The additions would have enhanced the visitor experience and could have made a positive impact on the economic return of the project. But let’s face it, getting icing on a cake that most of the council didn’t want anyway was a long shot to begin with. Personally, I remain hopeful that the unique design and location of the bridge itself will be the main draw.

The ugly: Conspicuously missing from the capital projects list was funding for the Concordia senior living development, which County Executive Matt Ossenfort called the “largest private sector investment and job creating initiative in the City of Amsterdam in years” and is expected to generate over 100 jobs, as well as tax and utility fee revenue for the city. The idea was for the city to borrow the funds to build the water and sewer mains the property needs to connect to the city’s system and then add a special tax to the property which would pay for the loan.

You can read the not-so-thrilled response some of the council members had when the idea was introduced by Mayor Ann Thane, and the subsequent letter that Ossenfort sent to the city emphasizing the importance of the project and which urged them to work together to find a way forward.

Both Thane and Montgomery County Business Development Center CEO Ken Rose said they were under the impression that Alderman Ron Barone, who along with Alderman Richard Leggiero, represented the council at a meeting with Rose, Thane, and Concordia developers, was on board with the deal. But at a committee meeting earlier this month, Barone again raised objections to the deal, citing the financial risk to the city. Ultimately, the council went along with him and decided not to fund the project. Rose has said that the MCBDC will attempt to provide the needed loan, but cannot offer the same terms that the city could have.

The problem here is not necessarily that the council said no. Although I think this was a fairly safe deal, I understand it was not completely risk free for the city, and I’m not sure if the city acting as a bank is the right precedent to set. The problem rather, is that Barone, whose opinion seems to have swayed the rest of the council, first said no, then maybe, then yes, then no again. It’s just another example of how the city has historically found a way to slap one developer after another in the face. And then we wonder why we don’t have more jobs and economic development in the city!

Over the past year and a half that I’ve been attending council meetings, I’ve yet to see the council even attempt to build some sort of consensus as to what type of developments they want to see in Amsterdam, what types they don’t want, and what form of assistance they are willing to offer to developers. Simply answering those questions ahead of time would go a long way in helping elected officials respond in an intelligent and professional manner when these issues come up. I’m alright with the city passing on certain projects. But when we say no, it has to be for clear reasons. Otherwise we will continue to flounder along economically as developers are scared away by city officials who can’t make up their minds what they want.

Ossenfort said in his letter to the city, “developers are constantly exploring new markets and additional opportunities and take notice of the attitudes of particular communities when deciding to invest their capital.”

This idea seems to be lost on the council, who has rarely even discussed the issue of economic development except for the occasions when Community and Economic Development Director Rob von Hasseln has spoken before the council. And now, of course, they want to fire him.

Tim Becker

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