Library and homeless shelter present needs to council

Representatives from the Amsterdam Free Library and Danielle’s House spoke before the Amsterdam Common Council at Tuesday’s meeting to highlight their respective organization’s financial needs.

John Naple, president of the library’s board of trustees, made an appeal similar to the one he presented recently before the Greater Amsterdam School District Board of Education. He explained
that a proposition will be on the ballot for the May 17 school board election and budget vote. The proposition would authorize a $200,000 annual levy for the Amsterdam Free Library and a $10,000 levy for the Fort Hunter Library. Those are the two libraries within the Greater Amsterdam School District, he said.

“In the 1990’s, the state passed Education Law 259, which allows libraries to petition residents of school districts to finance them,” Naple explained. “Once we have this passed, we get this amount every year. ”

Naple said the library currently relies on donations, fund-raisers, grants and savings for much of its $300,000 annual budget.

“The current method of funding is not working,” Naple said. “We receive $60,000 from the city, $15,000 from the Town of Amsterdam and $7,000 from New York State. That leaves us $218,000 short, which we have to raise somehow, and we can’t do it. We have donations, fund-raisers, grants and from our savings. This is not going to last too long.”

Naple said the levy would cost taxpayers 21 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation.

The proposed city budget for 2016-2017 contains a $60,000 contribution to the library. In a recent budget review meeting, council members agreed to wait until after the referendum before deciding what to do with that line.

Mayor Michael Villa asked Naple if other funding avenues, such as grants, could help the library’s financial situation.

“There are grants for programs and for building things, but not for regular operations,” Naple said.

“You have my support,” Villa said to Naple. “[Library Director Nicole Hemsley] does a great job.”

Villa also said city employees will fill potholes in the library parking lot as soon as equipment used to repair the library’s roof is removed.

“We’re going to address that,” he said. “As soon as the boom gets out of there, we’re going to get in there and do that.”

In addition to the appeal from the library, officials from Danielle’s House came to Tuesday’s meeting to ask the aldermen for financial support. Janine Robitaille, executive director of Interfaith
Partnership for the Homeless, asked the city for $10,000. Danielle’s House, located at 218 East Main Street in Amsterdam, is the only homeless shelter in Montgomery County. It operates seasonally from November to April, but also rents rooms to income-eligible people year-round.

“The county has a contract with us for $30,000,” she said. “The county also has a per diem rate per bed up to $20,000. We fund-raised last year and made about $32,000, where we needed to make $41,000, because we did not have city money involved last year.”

Robitaille said it is critical to have a homeless shelter in Amsterdam. Danielle’s House served 58 people last year and has served 48 people so far this year.

“Our goal is always to get them into permanent housing and not be homeless again,” she said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order that all homeless must be sheltered when the temperature falls to 32 degrees “opened up a whole can of worms at some level on DSS’s end, but the beauty is that in Amsterdam the Department of Social Services is, like, the best. They get it, and [County DSS Commissioner] Mike McMahon is just a wonderful guy who understands and works with us.”

She said the area was “blessed” with a mild winter, but “if next winter is brutally cold, those numbers could double, and then where will you be?”

Robitaille said $44,000 has been spent on repairs. The shelter usually employs one staff person year-round, but that position is vacant right now, she said.

Villa, a former city police officer and Social Services investigator, said he was in favor of helping the homeless shelter.

“I think it’s something we need to support,” he said. “Coming from where I come from, I know the issues that you face during the summer months, so that would be my concern.”

Robitaille last appeared before the council in the fall of 2014, when the council approved a $15,000 request for funding for the shelter.

John Becker

John Becker is both a Reporter and Consulting Editor for The Compass. He and his wife Pat operate Abbey Farms in Amsterdam NY.