By CASEY CROUCHER
The Amsterdam Common Council was blasted by city residents and workers Tuesday at a public hearing for next year's budget.
The council proposed several cuts in the 2014-15 budget to help reduce spending.
Some of the proposed cuts include eliminating or removing new or current city positions, including the corporation counsel's assistant, at a salary of more than $31,000; the economic development director at a salary of $45,000; a new employee relations position at a salary of more than $38,000; and a second Department of Public Works supervisor at a salary of more than $56,000.
Residents were mainly upset by the removal of the corporation counsel's assistant, and the economic development director.
Economic Development Director Rob von Hasseln argued how necessary his job is to the city, and the potential for a casino project across the river.
"This is not the time to send yet another mixed message to the development community," von Hasseln said. "We have an economic development department, then we defund it, then we have an economic development department again. If you've got $189 million to spend on a casino, don't you think you're watching what the community you're going to be working with is doing? You're sending them a signal right now that says, 'We don't think economic development is worth two tenths of 1 percent of our budget, or a nickel and a dime out of the typical tax bill. That's what you're saying to the developers at this critical time."
Gerard DeCusatis, the city's corporation counsel, advised the council to keep his assistant, Dan Roginski, in the budget for next year.
"You're proposing to eliminate my assistant, who is the only assistant staff that I have in my operations," DeCusatis said. "That would have a lot of negative impact on my ability to represent the city properly. It would expend a lot of my time in regards to filing, letter-writing, phone-answering, and messaging as well as other tasks he performs."
Roginski also defended his position at the hearing.
"I believe that I increase the productivity of the office, which is bringing in revenue by the nature of the attorney to settle matters in court or through negotiations," he said. "He spends a significant amount of time outside of the office, so I provide an interface for anyone who needs to reach him, any citizens who have concerning matters, in addition to many other tasks."
Among the city workers, there were a few residents who spoke passionately about the preservation of these positions.
Jerry Snyder talked about how the city is better off keeping the Economic Development Department and its director.
"We currently have an Economic Development Department for Amsterdam," Snyder said, "which I feel is contributing significantly to getting us back on the right track. I feel at this point, to eliminate that department would be a disservice to the city and the citizens of the city. I know at times in an economic standpoint it is necessary as they say 'to bite the bullet,' but we have to be careful not to shoot ourselves in the foot with that bullet, also. The natural order of things is to go from order to disorder and without planning and development, that's the direction the city will go."
Andrew Bryce expressed his love for the city and how much he wants von Hasseln to stay in his position.
"I'm here tonight to speak in defense of the Department of Economic Development, and the man who fills that position," Bryce said. "We are a city in crisis, we have been for quite some time, and the decades I have called myself a citizen of this city, it seems as if there has not been one year in which our beloved community did not feel itself on the brink of some desperate collapse. Amsterdam is weak, it must have a representative to speak on behalf of its uniqueness or it will be lost. Robert von Hasseln has represented these qualities to speak for Amsterdam."
Tammy Merendo questioned the elimination of both von Hasseln's and Roginski's positions.
"I don't understand why we would not want Gerry [DeCusatis], our corporation counsel, to not have an assistant," Merendo said. "I don't understand why we wouldn't want him to function at his highest level, and why we would want him answering the phones and doing other tasks that could be taken care of so that he could focus on getting us more money or prevent us from losing money. Also, regarding Robert von Hasseln, I guess you want to do away with his position completely? I don't get it, I don't get what we're doing here. I know you have to find the money somewhere but I just don't understand why it's coming from there."
The public hearing was an opportunity for the council to listen to concerned residents; it was not a question-and-answer session, so the council hardly spoke during the hearing.
Afterward, however, 3rd Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr. said he's been listening to the public for years, and he wasn't surprised by the residents' reactions.
"I've been doing this for years -- listening to the public, and sometimes it's orchestrated, so the minority usually comes in and the majority stays away," Barone said. "Don't ever believe that there's a minority out there of people who want to see taxes get higher and higher and higher, I just can't believe that. I'd take the phone calls from all the people saying that if I raise their taxes they're not going to be unhappy. It's utterly ridiculous. My words before I ever got on this Common Council, we have to do more with less, and that's what I believe in. I always believe that. I'll listen to every argument out there."
The council will meet again today at 5:30 p.m. to continue discussing the budget.