Amsterdam may eliminate budget review panel


Recorder News Staff

At a meeting of the Amsterdam Common Council's Committee of the Whole Tuesday night, city officials reviewed proposed amendments to the city's charter that would result in drastic changes to both the controller's position and the budget process.

Local Law "A" of 2013, if passed by both the council and voters, will turn the position of city controller from that of an elected one with a four year term to an appointed one with a six year term.

The law would also eliminate the budget review board, which is currently charged with gathering requests from various department heads and crafting a budget to be reviewed and voted on by the Common Council.

That role would fall back to the controller, as had been done prior to charter changes several years ago.

"It's the give and take like the budget should of had and it did have at one time until they changed it and ruined it," said 4th Ward Alderman David Dybas. "It even allows for inaction by the mayor and the council, and you still end up with a budget."

Under the new changes, the mayor and the controller would no longer have a vote on the budget.

Third Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi said the changes to the budget process were necessitated by the proposed changes to the controller's position and that they will help to ensure a true separation of powers within city government.

Giving both the mayor and a mayoral appointment voting power over the budget, as would have occurred had the budget process changes not been addressed in the charter in conjunction with the changes to the controller position, would have given the executive branch an all too powerful role, DeRossi said.

"The mayor would bring the budget to the council and the controller can just have the factual information as they're meant to do," said DeRossi.

Having the mayor craft a balanced budget to be reviewed and voted on by the council also makes more sense, said DeRossi.

"I think it's just crazy what we do now," DeRossi said.

"It solves a lot of the problems," agreed Corporation Council Gerard DeCusatis.

Several other charter changes related to the controller's position were discussed Tuesday night, including those addressing the qualifications required of a controller.

Whereas the charter previously only required that a candidate for controller be 18 years old and a resident of the city of Amsterdam, the proposed changes include minimum qualifications of: graduation from an accredited four year college or university with a Bachelor of Administration degree with a major in accounting or a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in accounting in addition to four years of accounting work experience.

First Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel expressed some reservation about requiring a four-year-degree.

"You might lose a good person," Isabel said, suggesting that the charter be changed to allow for a two-year degree with work experience equivalent to that of a bachelor's degree.

Isabel said there could be a number of individuals with only an associates degree but decades of municipal accounting experience.

"I'd like to ask for the world and if I have to lower it, I'll lower it," Dybas said. "But one of the reasons we got to where we are today is because of that lower qualification."

"After this is adopted you could alter that with a referendum if you can't get people," DeCusatis explained.

"Qualifications can be changed by local law," he added. "It's not like it's chiseled in granite."

DeRossi worried that the new qualifications did not include the previous requirements of 18 years old and a city resident.

DeCusatis said that the residency requirement is already spelled out in public officer's law and that the requirement of a degree would likely eliminate the age issue.

"I doubt you'd get a degree out of someone under 18," he said.

The committee also discussed whether the referendum vote required to amend the charter should take place during the general election in the fall or whether a special election should be scheduled.

DeCusatis said the benefits of a special election were that the matter gets settled "In a more timely manner," but that it also means additional cost and traditionally a low voter turnout.

Mayor Ann Thane expressed concern that waiting until the general election allows for the possibility of one or more individuals campaigning over a period of months for a seat that may not exist.

In the end, it was decided that DeCusatis would inquire of the board of elections whether the city would be allowed to hold a referendum in conjunction with the already scheduled primaries for the upcoming election season, though he expressed doubt about the legality of a such a move.

Should that request be denied, the council will revisit the issue and decide at a later date whether or not to schedule a special election.

The common council will meet next week to hold a public hearing and officially vote on the changes. Though that meeting had originally been scheduled for Tuesday, a move to Wednesday is currently being considered to accommodate Dybas, who will likely be unavailable on Tuesday.

A special meeting will be held tonight to vote on the meeting change.