Spending plan still not passed

By REBECCA WEBSTER

Recorder News Staff

The city of Amsterdam remains without a 2013-14 budget.

A week after the charter-mandated budget deadline, Common Council members continued their discussion of the budget Tuesday evening after council members decided last week that there was too much to go over before they could make their vote.

Tuesday's meeting began with Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane reading aloud an email sent to the mayor and council members by Deputy Controller David Mitchell. Mitchell was not in attendance at the meeting.

"With the city now starting to obtain positive fund balances, I would like the common council to consider amortization of the pension costs under the 10 year plan as Mr. [Jeff] Smith recommended at the last budget meeting. I believe as your independent consultant that you have been following his recommendations in the past," Mitchell's email reads. " I understand that the council prefers to 'pay as you go,' however, in order to maintain or even improve our bond ratings, we as a city will need to maintain appropriate fund balances with reserves. If we do not maintain the appropriate fund balances not only will we negatively affect our bond rating (which means we will pay higher interest rates on all borrowings even non-bonds) but we will start to draw down the fund balances."

His letter continued, with an attached comptroller's report showing an estimation of 2011-12 fund balances, as well as the receipts and expenditures that were entered into the accounting system before March 1 for this fiscal year.

After reading the email, Thane said she feels strongly that the council take the advice of their financial advisor Jeff Smith, of Municipal Solutions, and listen to their deputy controller and corporation counsel.

"We have a budget in front of us. We can gut it or we can go into this year and plan for paying off the amortization early and starting to put in for reserves which was recommended by Jeff Smith," she said.

First Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel said he is first upset that the fund balance figures he requested last week were only given to the council Tuesday. He told the council members and mayor he felt slighted.

But Third Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi said she was "amazed" Mitchell was able to pull the report together in the short amount of time he had.

Though Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis explained some of the information Mitchell sent, there was still some uncertainty about what was being presented.

Later, Fourth Ward Alderman David Dybas echoed his sentiments about amortizing pension costs, saying that if anyone decides to put this on their grandchildren, "we've got a problem."

"Let's start gutting," Dybas said. "Let's start making decisions."

He said later that if they go with the amortized plan he won't vote for it.

DeRossi told the council that since they are already late, she has no problem waiting until Mitchell could be there to discuss with the council.

"I don't have a problem waiting for that to get his explanation," she said.

After further explanation from DeCusatis on amortization, Thane told the council that not doing it would be an impact on services to constituents.

"I was not elected to gut the budget unnecessarily. I was elected to get this community of the doldrums that it's been in for the last 40 years and do something differently," she said. "We are not going to cut our way to prosperity. It will not happen."

Isabel said he still had issues with the transportation's budget going up and proposed keeping it where it was last year.

Eventually the council decided that would officially not vote and would wait to have a meeting where Mitchell is present.

The council will meet at 9 a.m. in City Hall, pending Mitchell's availability, to continue the budget discussion and possibly vote on it.