Montgomery County

Changes in Amsterdam city charter up for vote

Controller, budget process at issue

Today’s referendum could bring better government to the city of Amsterdam, Mayor Anne Thane said Monday.

City residents are being called to City Hall to vote on changes to the city’s charter that would change how the city’s chief financial officer is chosen and significantly alter how the city’s annual budget is drawn up.

One proposal before voters calls for changing the controller position from an elected to an appointed official — a measure that’s been discussed for years but never acted upon, Thane said.

“We’ve been talking about this for several years, internally, about the need for expertise in the position of controller,” she said.

“Finally, we have a council that is proactive and is proposing changes to the charter so that we may appoint a controller with the education and experience necessary to manage a $27 million budget and over 200 employees,” Thane said.

Under the current system, the only qualification to be elected to controller is that the candidate be at least 18 years old and a resident of the city.

“There should be more qualifications,” Thane said.

For years, the city government has conducted a difficult budget development process using a “budget review board.” This board will be the focus of the second question voters will see at the polls.

The referendum seeks to eliminate the budget review board from the charter and establish a new system of budget development similar to what other municipalities use.

If approved, the Common Council will receive a balanced budget proposal from the mayor’s office each year and that will serve as a starting point for consideration.

The Common Council could make changes to the mayor’s plan, and retain those changes over the mayor’s objections by a four-fifths supermajority vote.

Under the current system, the city compiles all the requests from individual departments and simply adds them up — leaving the Common Council and budget review board to whittle away at the tentative budget line-by-line before agreeing on changes.

“That is not really the best way to go about managing the city’s finances,” Thane said.

She said the budget review change is about “efficiency and just better government.”

“Starting from scratch is just a waste of time,” the mayor said.

Voting will take place from noon to 9 p.m. today at Amsterdam City Hall, 61 Church St.

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