State of the city - Mayor touts the successes, urges caution


Mayor Ann Thane recalled several of the city's accomplishments and setbacks in 2013 before referring to the Common Council's lack of cooperation during her annual State of the City address Tuesday night.

"I must take this moment to also caution that party affiliations and personal agendas have no place in working as one for the good of this city," Thane said during her address. "This council should be mindful that voting as a block to stop the advancement of responsible pursuit is tantamount to acting as a wall against progress instead of a bridge to our future."

Nearly a month late, Thane delivered her address during Tuesday night's Common Council meeting. Though she didn't address its tardiness, she did said prior to the meeting that she just wanted to include various topics as concisely as possible.

The speech, about 25 minutes long, was based on a theme of fighting for a healthier community. It was divided by priorities: financial health, regional health, tangible health and community health.

Financial health

Thane recognized the poor management in the controller's office as "damning," but "no surprise to her administration."

She said the prior council took corrective actions by hiring two accounting firms. New City Controller Matthew Agresta has also been working on state documents to "protect [the city's] favorable S&P and Moody's ratings."

"The current council will be responsible for developing a long-range financial plan, an action that is both prudent and timely," Thane said. "Though this entire process has been arduous, the resulting certainty will be well worth the pain. I remain optimistic that we are in better stead financially than has been predicted on some fronts."

Thane said to move forward, it is essential that the council look at underperforming departments and make "hard choices."

"We cannot put special interests before those of our taxpayers," she said. "We must fastidiously re-examine the workings of each department and enterprise fund without prejudice."

Regional health

Amsterdam's recent collaboration with the city of Schenectady in terms of distressed properties and uniform code enforcement software, both cities' land banks, and economic development have been highlighted during the past year.

Thane said the regional partnering efforts have also been beneficial, such as with the Mohawk Valley Regional Economic Development Council. The area was given more than $82 million this year.

"The city will continue to establish and grow these valuable relationships, locally and abroad," Thane said. "There are marvelous people and organizations engaged in transformative work across the state."

Tangible health

This year, Thane said the city has taken huge strides in repairing the city's infrastructure.

Though a 2008 fire discovered more than 1,000 city fire hydrant lines ran dry, today, just six are out of order.

The traffic repatterning project, which started as a goal in 2004, was implemented in 2013 and "though many decried this initiative as doomed to monstrous accidents and confusion," Thane said the change has been "pleasantly accepted and incorporated into [residents'] daily lives."

There have been several demolitions, but also efforts to combat blight, she said.

Thane said the new year will be significant for construction as the city may expect to see the recently demolished Esquire site rebuilt with a new industry and a $4.4 million building.

That facility will join the $20 million project at River Ridge and several apartment makeovers.

Community health

The past year, Thane said, has seen great leaps in terms of "the hearts" of Amsterdam's people. A combination of city-sponsored events, the Bacon Recreation and Creative Connections Arts centers and W1SHFU1:TH1NK1NG have helped increase the spirit and health of the city, she said.

A new initiative, "Reinvent Yourself Amsterdam," was identified as a spring goal.

Thane said in collaboration with the Greater Amsterdam School District and St. Mary's Healthcare, the program will focus on the "mind, body and spirit of each individual," as the well-being of city residents directly correlates to the well-being of our community.

She said the program will offer opportunities for residents to exercise together, discover nutritional alternatives to fast food, expand access to locally produced vegetables and meats and explore "new, creative or spiritual outlets."

"We are fleshing this strategy out now, but it is one that has had great success elsewhere and will be a tremendous chance for each of us to embrace a new, more fully realized experience of life," Thane said. "Or just lose a little weight."

To the city

Thane asked city residents to remember that just because the election is over, it doesn't mean they should tune out.

"Do not consider your job done once your vote was cast," she said. "Pay attention. Watch where your money is going and make sure your interests are being served, not the interests of one or a few."

Council reaction

First Ward Alderman Edward Russo said the mayor did "a good job" with the speech but there were "a few negative things in there" he didn't care for.

"Her heart's in the right place," Russo said. "She wants to move the city forward. I said that when I was running. I want to move the city forward. We just have to get on the same page together and hopefully we can do that. ... It should be just uphill from there and I think we'll be all right."

Valerie Beekman, 2nd Ward alderwoman, hopes the city will head in the right direction soon.

"Hopefully we'll move forward, work for the community as a whole on all levels," Beekman said. "We'll be all right. Amsterdam will get it together."

Third Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr. said he was "kind of offended a little."

"I don't have politics here or special interests," Barone said. "I've got interest in people that I know very well and their friends. If somebody's qualified, why wouldn't I help them?"

Diane Hatzenbuhler, 4th Ward alderwoman, said all the good the city's accomplished was met with negativity toward the council throughout the speech.

"She hit on a lot of positive issues," Hatzenbuhler said. "But she also attacked the council, which I don't think was necessary."

Richard Leggiero, 5th Ward alderman, said her speech was more like "a dream."

"What's at the end of that rainbow?" Leggiero said. "Until our finances are situated, how can we know?"