By ALISSA SCOTT
and HEATHER NELLIS
Amsterdam Fire Chief Richard Liberti announced Tuesday night that he is planning to retire this summer.
"It's the best job I could have ever had," Liberti said. "You're given the opportunity to gain a lot of knowledge and you're given the support to use that knowledge. In most cases you're trying to help someone on their worst day, and trying to make that day as tolerable as possible."
Liberti, 62, said this morning the timing is right after a 34-year career that began Jan. 21, 1980.
He hasn't filed his retirement paperwork yet, but "unless something unusual happens, I expect to retire at the end of July."
Liberti has been at the helm since Jan. 1, 1996.
As a proud new grandfather, he said his decision was influenced by the birth of his first grandchild; Josephine Lucille was born in late December.
Liberti's daughter Kate lives in Maryland, so part of his decision is ensuring he can spend time with her and his granddaughter.
"They are not as close as we would like, so retiring will give me more time to go back and forth. My wife is there as we speak," Liberti said.
He said he will miss the firefighters, and all of the people he works with.
"But I won't miss standing outside in 10 below weather," he said.
Mayor Ann Thane said she will appoint the new chief once Liberti makes his decision, and the individual is required to take a civil service test.
Liberti said he is sure he will have discussions with the mayor about who will take his place, but wouldn't comment further on who that might be.
"[Liberti] is such a great man," Thane said. "He has been one of my most valued staff members and it has been an honor to work as his partner. He is smart, quietly commanding, committed, compassionate and generous with his time and talent."
Thane said Liberti has "willingly worked in areas outside his job description."
"I will miss him tremendously," she said. "Someone else will fill the position of fire chief, but Rich Liberti is irreplaceable."
With Liberti's decision, the fire department and Common Council began making budgetary plans Tuesday that -- for the first time in 18 years -- include the salary for a new chief.
The proposed budget has increased by 1.5 percent, but Liberti said his retirement doesn't affect it much.
The $2.2 million budget actually includes a significantly lowered salary for the new chief as Liberti's longevity in the position had upped that line. The new chief is budgeted at $31,000, a nearly $50,000 drop.
City Controller Matthew Agresta said that is the budgeted amount, but it could change.
"The new hire would have that amount for their salary," Agresta said. "I assume a new chief would determine salary once it's known who it would be based on experience and years of service."
Agresta said with Liberti leaving, there is a decrease in the salary line and an increase in the holiday pay, sick time and vacation buyout lines.
"But there is a greater reduction in salary than there is an increase in buyouts with him leaving," Agresta said. "Because it's about $50,000 less for the new hire when [Liberti's] out, but if you total up the increases here, it doesn't equal that."
It also includes a second new firefighter position as another man, who Liberti wouldn't identify, will be leaving in June.
Overtime costs have not changed and remain at $100,000, nor have salaries for the four battalion chiefs at $244,000 total.
An increase of a $6,000 education incentive program has been added to the budget. Liberti said that's based on the level of schooling of the firefighters. As of now, he has two have their master's degrees and several have four-year college degrees.