Amsterdam budget would slash funding

In an effort to trim the city’s proposed $23.56 million budget, members of the Budget Review Committ

In an effort to trim the city’s proposed $23.56 million budget, members of the Budget Review Committee, which includes the Common Council, Mayor Ann Thane and Controller Heather Reynicke, are cutting back on funding for the Amsterdam Free Library and the Walter Elwood Museum.

During a budget committee meeting, members voted to eliminate a request for $25,000 from the museum and cut back on funding for the library. The panel did agree to give the Horace J. Inman Senior Center $2,400 although there was no request from the center.

Director of the Walter Elwood Museum Ann Peconie said she is “very disappointed” that the committee decided not to fund the museum.

Last year, museum board members and Thane, who was then the director of the museum, were successful in obtaining $25,000 from the city for the first time.

The previous city administration unanimously decided to fund the museum after incurring a budget surplus of around $3.4 million.

The museum receives most of its funding from private donations and memberships. Peconie said without the city’s support she isn’t sure how long the museum can hold on.

“We’re not in trouble. We’ll make it through the summer. But for the long-term future I don’t know how long we’ll last,” she said.

She said most state and federal grants that the museum is eligible to seek are matching grants, meaning the museum can receive $5,000 if it also provides $5,000. She said those grants are also only to be used for specific programs, such as hiring instructors or creating new exhibits. The grants don’t pay for the museum’s operating budget.

“If I have to use the money from donations and memberships for matching grants, how do I pay the staff?” she said.

The museum has three part-time staff members. Peconie works 30 hours per week, and her assistant and new collections manager work 15 hours per week.

Peconie said she would expect the city to view the museum as equally important as the public library or senior center.

The museum provides educational, recreational, social and cultural activities that the city doesn’t offer its residents, Peconie said.

“I think there is a lack of understanding. I don’t think they realize how much and how many people use the museum,” Peconie said. “This place is busy now.”

Peconie has written a letter to each member of the Budget Review Committee inviting them to the museum’s five-day spring enrichment camp this month.

Alderman William Wills, D-4th Ward, said if the city gave money to the museum it would have to give money to “every other worthy group in the city.” He said the Amsterdam Free Library was established under the premise that the city would help sustain it. The city has been helping to fund the library since 1902.

“I’d hate to see them go under, but the city isn’t doing well itself and it has to take care of itself before taking care of others,” Wills said.

A petition is available at the museum for residents who agree that the city should fund the museum. Peconie said 20 people had signed it in one day.

“If the city as a whole wants the museum to remain and stay open we’re all going to have to work hard to support it together, and that includes city government,” Peconie said. “I just really hope they change their minds.”

According to Joel Kaplan, treasurer of the library’s board of trustees, the Amsterdam Free Library has adopted a deficit budget for the last 20 years. He said fundraising efforts have usually made up for that deficit, but this year the library is facing a $27,600 deficit.

Prior to Joseph Emanuele III taking office as mayor in 2002, the city gave the library $82,000. Because Emanuele was going to be a part-time mayor, he agreed to give half of his salary to the library. Kaplan said that didn’t provide an increase to the library, rather the city decreased its funding to the library by $20,000, making up the difference through the mayor’s salary.

This year, the Common Council voted Wednesday to appropriate $63,000 for the library. Thane has not indicated that she will continue her predecessor’s practice of donating a portion of her salary to the library.

Kaplan said the library has about 7,000 cardholders and has a budget of about $280,000. He said with the cost of everything going up, from utilities to books, the library is going to have to cut back without additional money.

The library is starting a fundraising campaign on WVLT AM 1570’s “The Bob Cudmore Show.” Cudmore plans to conduct interviews with members of the library’s Board of Trustees for the next two weeks and plans to have a fundraiser during the third week of April.

Wills said the decision of the Common Council to remove funding for the Walter Elwood Museum and cut back on funding for the library is not set in stone and could be revisited once the city is finished with the budget process.

Currently, he said, the city’s budget hits the 1 percent self-imposed tax cap, meaning the city is using all the money it can generate from property taxes.

After two meetings looking at small department budgets within the city, the Budget Review Committee has cut $80,000 from the spending plan.

Categories: Schenectady County

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