The Common Council is seeking approval from the state Legislature to use an unspecified amount of money from the city’s sewer fund to help balance the proposed 2015-16 city budget.
But since drawing money from the sewer fund is against state law, the Assembly and state Senate would have to pass a law legalizing that measure.
Mayor Ann Thane said council members went behind her back and didn’t discuss the idea with her before they spoke with representatives from the offices of Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, and state Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam. The council members, meeting without Thane, decided to tap into the city’s sewer fund and sent letters to Amedore and Santabarbara asking them to introduce legislation in each chamber that would allow it.
“The first time I heard about it was when someone from Santabarbara’s office called me,” Thane said. “This should be a collaborative process. If you are going to do something that is prohibited by state law we should all know about it.”
Thane was unsure how willing the state Legislature would be to pass such a bill, saying it could open a “Pandora’s box” for other municipalities across the state.
“I don’t know how realistic this whole thing is,” she said. “It seems to me like every municipality would want the same thing.”
Thane said taking money out of the sewer fund is “irresponsible,” noting the city’s aging sewer system and repairs it may need in coming years.
It’s not clear how much support the measure has with local representatives.
“I am sure the mayor and City Council can work together to craft a balanced and on-time budget for the city of Amsterdam,” Santabarbara said in a statement issued Tuesday. “In the meantime, I am willing to continue working with everyone to ensure the best outcome for the hardworking families of Amsterdam.”
Amedore declined comment.
Typically, municipalities draw money from their general fund surplus to help balance a budget, but because Amsterdam’s bookkeeping is not up to date, city officials are unsure how much money is in the rainy-day account. The city is also unsure how much money is in the sewer fund.
“We have gone to both of our local legislators in the state government,” said Fourth Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler, adding the council has not specified how much money it wants to take from the sewer fund. “The mayor presented us with a budget that is irresponsible, and we see this as a way to help balance it.”
The mayor’s roughly $30 million proposed budget included a $5.1 million deficit, but over the last month the council has worked to reduce that number. According to Hatzenbuhler, the council has made over $500,000 in cuts.
The council is expected to approve the final budget at noon Friday.
In April, Thane proposed the city purchase two ambulances and allow the Fire Department to run an ambulance service. Currently, the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corps is the only ambulance service provider in the city. By consolidating medical treatment and transportation to hospitals into one agency, Thane projected a minimum of $500,000 annually in expected net revenue. But the council quickly shot down that idea.
“The council was so quick to shoot that idea down,” Thane said. “But now they need to find a way to bring in more revenue and are finding it difficult. The ambulance idea was something that was proven to work thoughout the state.”
Hatzenbuhler said the public was against the ambulance proposal and the mayor’s expected revenue was too lofty.
Hatzenbuhler added the council will have to “tighten the belt” if the state Legislature doesn’t allow them to move money from the sewer fund.
“I don’t know, it’s going to be tight,” she said. “We won’t cut any positions or lay anyone off, but we will definitely need to look for ways to make more cuts.”
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