Common Council meeting highlights for 3-21-2017

Golf pro to take over pro shop hiring duties under proposed new contract

The Amsterdam Common Council approved a resolution at Tuesday’s meeting authorizing the mayor to negotiate and sign a new contract with Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course Pro Joe Merendo. According to Mayor Michael Villa, the new one-year contract will allocate city funds for Merendo to hire his own staff for the pro shop rather than utilize city employees.

“So whatever he does with that amount of money that’s in his contract, that’s up to him. If he wants to pay an assistant pro for x amount of dollars and three other people, that’s his prerogative. But we’re not going to be responsible for the four people that are [currently] staffing the pro shop,” said Villa.

“We save on unemployment [insurance], we save on the contract itself,” he added.

The details of the contract have yet to be finalized.

Villa said he expects this year to be Merendo’s last year as golf pro.

Alderman Jim Martuscello spoke in support of the measure and said that the four staff members currently cost the city nearly $50,000.

Controller warns city health insurance budget nearly depleted

Controller Matt Agresta told the council that expenditures for the city’s health insurance benefits have nearly reached the $4.4 million budgeted amount for the fiscal year. The city still has four months, including the current month, left in its fiscal year which began July 1, 2016.

“Our health insurance costs were much higher than were anticipated for the year.” said Agresta.

Agresta said that given the city’s health insurance benefit program is self-funded, costs can fluctuate by a wide margin on a monthly basis, and therefore there is no accurate way to predict how much extra the city will need to cover the rest of the year.

“Whatever claims come in, that’s what we pay. We don’t pay a fixed rate…if someone needs a surgery for $300,000 [for example], we pay for that,” said Agresta.

Agresta said he had previously informed the mayor about the situation and had urged additional constraint on spending.

Mayor Michael Villa said he has instructed department heads to get approval from the controller on all expenditures and has restricted any advance purchases.

“It’s the fate of being self insured,” said Villa. “It’s difficult to plan for this type of overage.”

Both Agresta and Villa said they will work with the city’s benefits provider to see if there are any specific causes for the expenses this year being higher than in previous years.

Villa said that regardless of the cost, the city is still obligated to provide the health benefits promised to city employees and retirees.

Alderman Jim Martuscello added that if funds could not be transferred from other lines in the budget to cover the overage, that the last resort would be to use the fund balance.

Martuscello proposes to expand user fee abatement law

Alderman Jim Martuscello said he would like to see a current law that allows for an abatement on city user fees for property owners who renovate multi-unit residential buildings expanded to include single-unit owners.

The current law, found in chapter 214, article 14 of the city code, allows the city to waive water, sewer, and sanitation user fees for property owners who invest at least $5,000 in renovations per unit. The abatement covers the balance of fees due for the year in which the abatement is granted, and one additional year.

During a committee meeting on Tuesday, Martuscello questioned why the law didn’t cover single unit buildings. He argued that even though granting an abatement for up to two years would reduce revenue for the city, the property would still generate tax revenue and would save the city the cost of demolishing a home, which Martuscello said could be as much as $40,000 for one property.

Alderman Chad Majewski pointed out that under the current law, a multi-unit owner would have to invest at least $10,000 in order to qualify for the abatement.

“I would be in favor to changing [the law] if we were to raise that dollar amount to say that the minimum is at least $10,000,” said Majewski.

The other council members agreed to consider the idea and look into it further.

Whelly to replace Bonanno in recreation department

Mayor Michael Villa announced Tuesday that Danielle Whelly will be replacing Samantha Bonanno in the city’s recreation department. Bonanno previously held the position of recreation program specialist. Whelly will be leaving her previous position as economic development specialist with the Montgomery County Business Development Center.

Tim Becker

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