JOHNSTOWN – City Treasurer Mike Gifford Tuesday said he expects to present the Common Council with the largest bond proposal of his career — $13.7 million worth of capital projects and equipment acquisitions — at the council’s July 19 meeting.
Gifford said it will be up to the council how much the city ultimately decides to borrow, but he’s never presented a single package this large to the council during his tenure, which began in the early 1990s and will conclude at the end of this year.
The lion’s share of the requests have come from the city’s elected Water Board, accounting for $7.3 million of the total, similar in size to the $8 million bond Johnstown borrowed for upgrades at the jointly owned Johnstown-Gloversville Wastewater Treatment Facility in 2013, which Gifford said was the largest single bond process he’d been involved with prior to this year.
The rest of the proposal includes $2.3 million for facility improvements and LED street lights; $2.9 million for Department of Public Works vehicles and equipment plus repaving parking lots; $266,215 for five 2021 Dodge Durangos plus equipment for each for the Johnstown Police Department; and $883,000 for a new pumper truck, utility pickup truck and ambulance for the Johnstown Fire Department and its ambulance service.
“I hate calling these things ‘wish lists,’ but I don’t know what else to call them,” Gifford said of the items in the proposal. “These are all of the capital projects and acquisitions that the department’s want. They were asked to get a list together, which they did.”
Gifford said he has submitted the full list to the city’s bond attorneys, a New York City law firm named Hawkins Delafield & Wood and then to its financial adviser firm Munistat Services, located in Terryville, which will arrange the requests into a complete bond proposal.
If approved by the council, Gifford said the borrowing will likely occur in the fall.
The bond proposal process is coming during the final year of Mayor Vern Jackson’s administration and the final year of Gifford’s long career as city treasurer. Some of the items, like the $7.3 million for the Water Department, represent projects Jackson and the Common Council argued could not be completed in the past due to friction between the city government and the independently elected Water Board. Voters rejected a council-backed referendum to abolish the elected Water Board during the November 2020 election, the second time voters have rejected a referendum attempt to eliminate the board over the past five years.
The bond proposal plan also comes as the city has faced increased scrutiny from the state Comptroller’s Office. In March, the comptroller issued an audit report critical of Gifford, stating he has not maintained accurate accounting records in recent years, filed the required Annual Update Document (AUD) financial report to the state late for 2016 and 2017, and still hasn’t filed the AUDs for 2018 and 2019.
Gifford in 2020 said one of the reasons for the delay in the AUDs had been his lack of control over the city’s water fee revenues, controlled by the Water Board. Gifford seized control of direct oversight of the Water Department’s accounts in September2020. The Water Board is currently suing the city, Gifford and Jackson to regain control of the accounts. Spending from the accounts still requires a majority vote from the Water Board for approval, but Gifford now has possession of the Water Department’s checkbooks and the issuing of checks from its accounts.
Gifford said he will not comment further on the issue of the 2018 and 2019 AUDs, other than to say they still haven’t been filed, and he does not expect them to be filed prior to the city’s bonding process. He said the delayed AUDs may mean the city will have to pay a higher interest rate for the bond debt.
“That certainly could happen, but we don’t know until we go out to market,” Gifford said. ” [The market] would look on it less favorably, in my opinion.”
Jackson said he doesn’t know whether the bond process will be completed before the end of his term, but he said some of the items in the proposal represent long neglected priorities for the city, including the Hydaddy-Cork Center Reservoir Phase II and Phase III repairs (estimated cost $4.6 million) and replacement of the Fire Department’s 1991-vintage frontline pumper truck (estimated cost $635,000).
“Not everything on the list is going to get paid for,” Jackson said. “The dam center project is a big part of all of this, because we’ve been sanctioned by the state, and we can’t get downstream flood insurance because of it.”
Fire Chief Bruce Heberer offered his argument for the new pumper truck in his memo to Jackson and Gifford explaining his department’s acquisition requests.
“This  pumper has had increasing maintenance costs and parts are becoming either obsolete or very difficult to find,” Heberer wrote. “We have constantly pushed our vehicles beyond their safe service life. This vehicle is our highest priority to replace.”
Heberer said he needs the new utility truck because the department’s current truck is from 2004, and a new truck could carry five firefighters instead of the current limit of two. He said buying a second ambulance will enable his department to respond to more ambulance calls throughout the city.
“More importantly, it will allow us to have a reserve ambulance for maintenance times and will practically remove any out of service time,” Heberer wrote.
Police Chief David Gilbo’s request for the five SUVs broke the purchases down with two vehicles going to “Detective and Administration,” two vehicles going to “Patrol Vehicles.” The patrol vehicle SUVs include $15,900 worth of equipment and installation costs, a little less than the $10,730 equipment and installation costs for the detective and administration SUVs.
Gilbo’s list of items does not break down the cost of the fifth SUV and its equipment. which appear to be about the same as the detective and administration SUVs at $55,311 total.
“The Durango Pursuit SUVs are being recommended for purchase to allow patrols to have five total SUV’s if need [be] during major snow storms,” Gilbo wrote.
Fourth Ward Councilman Max Spritzer said he’s not sure about another ambulance for the Fire Department Ambulance Service, but he supports replacing the pumper truck and dam repairs. He said he hasn’t seen the complete list yet and has been frustrated with the process so far. “Mike Gifford doesn’t talk to us. He hasn’t talked to us in six months,” Spritzer said.
Gifford said he will present the council with the full list as soon as the proposal comes back to him from Munistat Services, hopefully in time for the July 19 meeting.
The list of proposed capital projects:
City Facility Improvement Measures and LED lighting — total estimated cost $2.3 million
• Street light LED replacement — $665,729
• Purchase of street lights from National Grid — $317,158
• HVAC indoor air system for City Hall — $723,708
• Building temperature control system for City Hall — $46,403
• Window replacement for City Hall — $213,050
• Department of Public Works (DPW) building interior lighting — $59,708
• DPW heating system upgrade — $137,678
• DPW Building Envelope — $92,819
Department of Public Works equipment and paving — total estimated cost $2.9 million
• DPW roof replacement — $1.1 million
• 2 – single axle plow trucks, plus worker body gear — $396,145
• Salt bin —$365,511
• 10-wheel dump truck, plus body gear — $142,512
• 2 – “Live Body” truck beds — $102,126
• Mini Excavator with hammer and trailer — $89,469
• 3 – 1-ton regular cab pickup trucks with lift gates, tow package and plow package — $104,812
• 2 – LT 3/4 ton crew cab short box truck with tow package — $72,355
• 1-ton, 2-wheel drive truck with dump body — $39,880
• Roll-off set up for truck — $54,399
Parking lot repaving
• South Market Street — $160,000
• 2 Main Street Park — $60,000
• Lot behind O’Connor’s bar — $105,000
Johnstown Police Department. — total estimated cost $266,215
Two detective and administrative vehicles and equipment costs for both
• 2-2021 Dodge Durango pursuit SUVs — $63,162
• Equipment and installation — $21,460
• Radios and radio accessories — $4,300
• In-car mounts and computers — $7,060
• Automatic vehicle locator equipment — $4,300
• Total cost — $100,282
Two patrol vehicles and equipment costs for both
• 2021 Dodge Durango pursuit SUVs — $63,162
• Equipment and Installation — $31,800
• Radio’s and radio accessories — $4,300
• In-car mounts and computers — $7,060
• Automatic vehicle locator equipment — $4,300
• Total cost — $110,622
Fifth 2021 Dodge Durango plus equipment — $55,311
Johnstown Fire Department — total estimated costs $883,000
• Replacement for 1991 Frontline pumper truck — $635,000
• Replacement for utility pickup truck — $48,000
• Second ambulance — $200,000
Water Board — total estimated cost $7.3 million
• Phase II and phase III repairs at the Hydaddy-Cork Center Storage Reservoir — $4.6 million
• Replacement of city water meters — $850,425
• Repair sedimentation basins at Sylvan Falls/Apple Bessie — $600,000
• Repairs to the Cold Brook dam — $450,000
• Repair a Route 30A waterline located in front of Noble Ace Hardware — $255,000
• Bypass and fall repairs at the Cork Center intake reservoir — $250,000
• 3 Silverado 3500 pickup trucks — $127,750
• Door and lighting projects at the city’s water reservoirs — $98,000
• SCADA computer system upgrade — $34,370
• Two turbidimeters at both reservoir — $16,425