Amsterdam still working toward budget


Recorder News Staff

The city of Amsterdam Common Council could pass their budget next week, one week after the charter-mandated deadline of May 1.

Tuesday night, Common Council members sat in council chambers with Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane, Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis, and Deputy Controller David Mitchell for what was meant to be their final budget review session.

But by the nights end, council members didn't feel comfortable enough to pass the budget as it stands. Thane said after the meeting that though there will be likely a week delay, she thinks they are very close.

"I think that they just need time to review what has been suggested," she said. "We've got it to where we need to be at the 2 percent (property tax cap), so hopefully they can ruminate on this for a few days and adopt it at the Tuesday night meeting."

By the end of the nearly three-and-a-half hour meeting, the rates had been tentatively set. According to the latest budget document, the water rate is proposed to be $367.57, a 6.06 percent increase from the current fiscal year, but less than the initial jump that the first budget document showed.

When the budget was first released in March 2013, it showed a nearly 13.6 percent jump. In the most current document, the sewer rate is proposed to be $261.86, a 3.51 percent decrease from the current fiscal year, and the sanitation rate is proposed to be $230.99, a 2.98 percent increase from the current fiscal year.

Other changes made Tuesday night included the removal of a $100,000 retiree health insurance contribution, the reduction of the Water Fund transfer to the General Fund to $509,000, and keeping amortization as a part of the document.

This last piece has brought a great deal of discussion since the budget discussions began this year, most notably from Fourth Ward Alderman David Dybas.

At earlier meetings, Dybas called the use of pension amortization "a casino game," adding at another time that he felt it was "mortgaging the future."

On Tuesday, Jeffrey Smith, president of Municipal Solutions and financial advisor for the city, walked council members through information on the city's bond rating, as well as amortization options for the coming fiscal year.

Smith told the council that he was against the "pension smoothing" idea that had been proposed by the governor, but felt a program through the state comptroller's office was worth a look.

"There's a new program that started in 2011 and that is the State Comptroller's Contribution Stabilization Program. It was enacted after the near collapse of the financial markets," Smith said.

One of the perks of the comptroller's program, Smith said, was that if a municipality can pay the money off fast enough, the payments then begin to go into a reserve at the comptroller's office for future pension costs.

Thane said after the meeting that the comptroller's program is "the smart way to go."

"Especially since we're looking at the stock market doing better in performance and it being advantageous this year and start to build some reserve if we pay it off more quickly," Thane said. "And the way the revenues are going, and the trending is going, it looks like we'll be in a position to do that. We should be doing that."

Thane said she feels the city officials should be heeding the advice of both their financial advisor and their corporation counsel.

Earlier in the meeting, both Thane's and Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis' budgets were up in front of the council. While Thane's budget didn't really change, DeCusatis's does increase in salary for both himself and his assistant.

"Typically when a person has been in a position for a year, they get an increase," DeCusatis said.

While Fifth Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero, who brought up the salary increase, reminded DeCusatis that per the charter the corporation counsel position is part-time, DeCusatis said he's spent a great deal of time working with the city.

"What I want to point out is in the time I've spent here, my value for the city increases the more I learn about the job," he said. "You'll see how it benefits the city dramatically."

DeCusatis added later: "I don't know. If service and commitment to a job and results have any value to you, than I think you should consider it."

The council will meet once again on Tuesday surrounding the Common Council meeting to further discuss the budget and possibly adopt the tentative document.