Mayor Michael Villa said when he ran for election the first time four years ago he was selling hope, this time around he’d like voters to focus instead on his results.
“When we look back on what we ran on, fiscal responsibility, accountability and leadership: the fiscal accountability, we are current on our finances — although the picture isn’t pretty — we are current for the first time in a decade, so now we know the challenge and we have real numbers to deal with,” Villa said.
“Accountability, a lot of that goes to Pat Beck for dealing with human resources, and getting us up-to-date on employee training and discipline. We now have a clear path when there is an incident that requires discipline, and that speaks volumes; and leadership, I think we’ve provided that from the mayor’s office and the [department heads].”
After hiring an independent auditor, Amsterdam was able to determine it has an $8.347 million budget deficit built up over a period of years due to a combination of factors, including not having performed any property foreclosures between 2007 and 2015.
The city’s financial consultants have recommended the city begin a correction plan that would include a 10 to 12 percent tax hike with the 2019-20 budget, more tax hikes to follow, and a plan to ask the state Legislature to allow the city to borrow money to clear the deficit off its books.
Villa, a Republican, announced his candidacy for a second four-year term Saturday, which he said will be his last if he is reelected, against the backdrop of the difficult road ahead for the city’s finances.
So far, no Democrat has announced a candidacy for the office. Amsterdam Democratic Party City Chairman Chad Majewski Saturday could not be reached Saturday for comment. Majewski was the 3rd Ward Alderman and deputy mayor until his resignation in July.
Villa made his announcement Saturday at the Amsterdam Castle, formerly the site of the Amsterdam Armory.
Nigel Ghotbi, the owner of the Castle, has praised Villa’s administration for working closely with him to help his business deal with city codes and regulations as he converted the former armory into a 21-unit hotel, one of the signature economic development events of Villa’s term in office. Ghotbi said he was glad to host Villa’s reelection announcement.
“I think Mike’s doing a great job,” Ghotbi said. “To me, really, this is about, if it works, don’t fix it.”
Villa mentioned some of his other first-term highlights, including:
• Amsterdam being awarded a state $10 million Downtown Revitalization Grant.
• The $34 million Chalmers Mill Lofts apartment building project, currently awaiting approvals expected in April for federal low-income housing tax credits.
• The 32,000-square-foot Microtel hotel project on Route 5S, recipient of a $1.2 million New York state grant
• Reform of the city’s former recreation department, from being primarily focused on parks, the city pool system and youth sports like basketball, into the Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department.
Villa said he believes the most difficult problem he’s faced while in office is changing the region’s perception of Amsterdam as “a dead city” to one moving in the right direction. He credited the leadership of Robert Spagnola, the director of the city’s Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department, with helping to change the city’s image.
“We brought in young talented people, and under Rob’s direction took things to another level. We went from nine city-wide events to 27 city-wide events,” Villa said.
Two of the employees hired by the city to enhance its marketing and tourism are Danielle Whelly, hired as the assistant director of recreation and Michele Pawlik the city’s tourism and recreation assistant. Whelly recently announced she is leaving the city to work for Amsterdam-based company Sticker Mule.
Spagnola said it was Villa’s willing to add staff to his department that enabled the city’s tourism and marketing efforts to expand. He said they plan to replace Whelly and are currently advertising the position.
“Establishing many first-time events, such as the tree lighting, which has never been done, trick-or-treating on the bridge, Soupfest, Wingfest, the pub crawl, we recreated and redefined the Italian Festival — these are just a few of the events that are completely free to our city residents and to the outside public,” Villa said.
Ghotbi, a immigrant from the United Kingdom who bought the Amsterdam Castle five years ago and opened it for business in 2018, said he had planned to close the hotel for the winter. But he said he was surprised to find he had enough customer traffic to keep it open. He said he likes the direction the city is going in and plans to open a year-round bar and restaurant at the Castle.
“The restaurant is going to be open within the next eight weeks,” Ghotbi said. “It’s not going to be Italian food, that’s a far as I can give you. I love Italian food, but people need a respite from that here. We’re going to do something different. We’re going to do really fish, with a base, steak with a base; it’s going to be, emphasis-on, a healthy salad.”
Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort, an Amsterdam resident and native, was in attendance at Villa’s announcement. Ossenfort, also a Republican, said he endorses Villa and will support his reelection bid.
“I think the mayor is a very strong leader and firm in his commitments,” Ossenfort said. “And Amsterdam is at a time when they need firm leadership — whether it’s different economic development projects, addressing the financial problems — he’s got the resolve to make sure they will get addressed, even if it’s not easy along the way. We’ve had a very cooperative relationship where we’ve helped each other along the way, and I’d like to see that continue.”
Villa’s father Mario Villa served three terms as mayor, two back-to-back from 1980 to 1987 and then from 1992 to 1996.
Mayor Michael Villa said he knows he needs a second term to finish what he started.
“Four years just isn’t enough to get finished what we want to do,” Villa said. “But I know this is the last term for me. That lays a good foot print. If we can get the city’s Comprehensive Plan done, future mayors will have a plan to go off of.”