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Casey Croucher/Recorder staff Third Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr. discusses the city's budget during a meeting Tuesday night at City Hall.


Council saves economic development position

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - Updated: 10:33 AM


The Amsterdam Common Council decided Tuesday night to keep the city's Economic Development director position.

After debating for more than two weeks on whether to keep the position in the city's budget, the council invited Economic Development Director Rob von Hasseln back to City Hall to explain to council members why he's an asset to the city.

"I'm the department head whose budget never goes up. Ever," von Hasseln said. "It only goes down, and I've shown you ways to cut my expenses a couple of times. I don't have a pension and I don't take insurance. I have a union contract which says I'm entitled to a 2 percent pay increase every year and I write my own budget, never asking for the 2 percent. I never asked you for a secretary, although some days I want to shoot myself without having one. I've always found ways to save you money, I even work two jobs for one salary."

Von Hasseln said he's the only department head dedicated to the concept of either cutting or growing the tax base.

"My budget comes to be two tenths of 1 percent of the city budget, or a nickel and a dime on a typical mid-range taxpayer," he said. "When I was hired I told the Common Council if they didn't like the job I was doing in one year I would resign, all you have to do is say it. Nobody did; not the mayor, not anyone from the Common Council."

He said he'd promise the council that if anyone didn't like the job he was doing he would personally take them to his office for 10 minutes, explain the projects he's working on, and if they still weren't satisfied he'd "give them their nickel and dime."

Third Ward Alderman Ronald J. Barone Sr. said he'd put von Hasseln back into the budget for another year.

However, Fourth Ward Alder-woman Diane Hatzenbuhler reminded Barone that von Hasseln's position runs co-terminus with the mayor's, according to the city's charter.

"That's true, the position is co-terminus," Barone said, "but we control the budget. But if the funding isn't there, guess what you do with the word co-terminus? Nothing. That means nothing because we control the budget. Until they take the purse strings away from us, we control that budget."

The council decided to keep von Hasseln in the budget and meet with him monthly to get updates on his projects. They also decided to create an Economic Development Committee in the near future; Fifth Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero volunteered to be the liaison for the committee.

Also discussed at Tuesday's meeting was the deputy controller's position.

Barone suggested the council eliminate the deputy controller and move $20,000 into the contractual fund for the city's controller Matthew Agresta.

"If there was a problem and he had to hire outside, he'd have the $20,000," he said. "I'm not leaving him bare bones."

Hatzenbuhler asked Agresta what the deputy controller's duties are.

"He works on all of the things that aren't day-to-day operations," Agresta said. "He works through all of the stuff that I can't."

Barone said Agresta needs to start working on his own.

"He needs to start working on his own, he'll be in a new office, he'll be the leader that he is and he'll have backup money," Barone said. "I wouldn't leave him all alone without any resources."

Agresta told the council eliminating the position would be a mistake.

"I would just like to say in regards to the deputy controller, regardless of what financial situation we're in, which is a horrible one right now, if you don't have somebody in that office that knows how that office runs you're going to have issues whenever you have a new controller coming in," Agresta said. "I don't care if you were controller before, you worked in a controller's office, if you're the greatest mathematician on the face of the earth, you have no idea how the city operates, you have no idea how the software functions and you need to know the lay of the land. There's a learning curve, I don't care who you are. My predecessor had experience, but everyone has issues when they start here. If you eliminate that position you're setting yourself up for issues down the road."

Hatzenbuhler suggested funding the position through December, but Leggiero suggested funding the position for an entire year. Second Ward Alderwoman Valerie Beekman and First Ward Alderman Edward Russo agreed with Leggiero. Hatzenbuhler and Barone voted against it.

The position will remain in the budget, unchanged, for a year.

The council will meet again tonight at 6 for another budget review session.


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