Jim Martuscello, candidate for fifth ward alderman, said recently at an interview at his Sweeney St. home, that he’s happy to be “stuck” in Amsterdam.
“I’m a city person. I just really love the abuse,” he said with a good-natured sarcastic laugh. “I just love these houses on top of me, no yards. I love the sounds of the track and motorcycles down here. At night the train whistles put me to sleep.”
A life-long resident of the city, he and his wife were considering buying a home in the country a few years ago.
“We looked at each other and said ‘it’s too quiet.’ There’s just not enough action for me,” recalled Martuscello with a laugh. “And that was it. So we’re stuck here!”
Out of all the challenger candidates for office this year, Martuscello has the most experience by far, having previously served 18 years on the common council representing the fifth ward. Based on that experience, he offered a number of ideas as to what he wants to see accomplished if elected.
With the abandoned east-end factories looming in the background, Martuscello said he wants to see more results from the city’s economic development efforts. To that end, he proposed making the Community and Economic Development Director’s job a part-time position, but designating the administration fee from any grants secured by the director as additional compensation for an incentive.
Martuscello pointed out that the land on the old Chalmer’s property on the South Side had yet to be developed.
“Between the [Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency] director making 45k a year, and the CEDD making 45k a year, are their salaries justifying their departments?” asked Martuscello.
He said the city should also look at working closer with Montgomery County.
“They’ve expanded their department, in planning and economic development, so why can’t we utilize that?” asked Martuscello.
However, he acknowledged the city and county have different priorities and that “we do need some type of economic development department.”
Martuscello also said he would consider representing the downtown areas of Bridge Street and Main Street as his responsibility as fifth ward alderman. He said that he supports initiatives like the Spring Fling festival and farmers markets, and would take a pro-active role in helping to improve coordination between event planners and local businesses.
“I would love to help the downtown,” said Martuscello. “I would like to see a nice beautiful hotel downtown, where that structure is right now. I think that’s an imperative…there’s definitely a demand.”
He added that he would be open to offering incentives to potential hotel developers.
He also said that he supported the idea of moving the train station to downtown “as long as we have the money for it.”
In regards to handling the budget, Martuscello said that based on the balances of the sewer, water and sanitation funds specified in the 2013 Annual Update Document, that the city’s user fees should be lowered.
“You should have been able to take money out of that fund balance, out of all those three [funds], and reduced the water, sewer and garbage [rates] substantially,” said Martuscello.
“Any time you have an excess amount of money in a fund balance, it means you over-taxed your constituents, or you over-budgeted, or both.”
When asked if the city should keep a large fund balance as a reserve for emergencies, he said, “Any kind of emergency, in any one of those – water, sewer – you’d probably have to bond it. Because it would be a major project…a million dollars ain’t going to do you nothing…you’re going to have to borrow for it anyway.”
However, Martuscello said he felt the general fund balance was too low and needed to be brought back up to approximately $3 million where it has been in the past.
Martuscello said that putting aside more funds for demolition work would also be a priorty. He said he would advocate setting up a separate line item in the budget specifically for demolition work. Whenever the city received any extra revenue, such as from insurance reimbursements, he would advocate that the funds be transferred to this line rather than spent elsewhere, if possible.
He also called for better and more timely communication between the council, mayor, and department heads and criticized the late start on utilizing money borrowed in anticipation of state funds for road repairs.
“There’s no reason the road program did not start earlier. There’s no excuse for that,” said Martuscello.
Martuscello said he was strongly in favor of the idea of utilizing the city’s fire department to run an ambulance service and would start work on it immediately if elected. He said the city needs the extra revenue and that after looking into the issue himself, he doesn’t believe a city run service would hurt GAVAC, the current ambulance provider.
“We’re not going to knock GAVAC out, believe me,” said Martuscello. “They have expanded throughout this whole county. So it ain’t like we’re going to damage their revenue.”
“There’s enough money there for the city and [GAVAC],” he added. “If I thought for one minute we were hurting GAVAC, I would say let’s not do it.”
He also said he would keep an eye on the practice of hiring outside contractors for public works jobs and that for any given job he would ask, “can we do it in-house it first? That’s the first thing I would look into. Can we do it in-house first, and if not, why not?
Martuscello commended the current controller for his work in getting the city’s financial reporting caught up. Having previously served as the chair of the finance committee, he said that he saw good results from hiring outside accounting firms to help with the city’s finances and would be willing to hire out again if needed. However, he said that the scope of the job had to be clearly defined.
“When you give them an open checkbook, they’re going to take their time,” said Martuscello.
He said he would also look to see if it would be advantageous to re-finance some of the city’s debt to either save money on interest, or lower the debt service.
Martuscello said that in the past, that recreation department revenues and expenses were broken up into more specific lines than they are now and would be in favor of going back to that practice.
He added that he would like to look at ways the city might capitalize on the traffic at the popular Amsterdam Mohawks games held at Shuttleworth Park.
Martuscello said the sports and recreation center proposed by the city’s recreation department earlier in the year was a “great idea for the city.” He said he would also be in favor of continuing support for the city’s art center, as well as working with the Amsterdam Free Library and Walter Elwood Museum.
Back when he was a child, Martuscello said he remembers doing arts and crafts in the city’s parks and would be open to providing the same type of experience again, possibly by hiring an art or music teacher during the summer.
Martuscello said that in the past, he has been supportive of the development of Riverlink Park, specifically for the construction of the painted rock sculpture.
“I got criticized immensely for that,” he recalled.
He said that he is glad the long-term vision for the park is starting to be recognized.
“Next thing you know it’s the jewel of the Mohawk,” said Martuscello.
Toward the end of the interview, Martuscello said he believes the city is relatively safe and commended the city’s police department.
“There really is good people in Amsterdam,” said Martuscello. “And people dwell on the bad, but I think there’s a lot of good.”
Martuscello is running on the Democratic and Rebuilding Amsterdam party lines against incumbent Richard Leggiero, who is running on the Republican and Conservative party lines.
Editor’s note: Leggiero declined an invitation for an extended interview with the Compass.