JOHNSTOWN – Mayor Vern Jackson has scheduled a special meeting of the Common Council for tonight at 7 p.m. to discuss and then vote on a resolution to borrow up to $13.7 million for city capital projects.
While Jackson in June had said he didn’t know whether the bonding process would be completed by the end of his term in December, the council now appears poised to move ahead with authorizing the borrowing before the end of July.
First Ward Councilman Bradley Hayner said he anticipates the special meeting will take approximately “30 to 45 minutes.”
“We hope to ask any questions of whatever department heads are there, and then we hope to make any cuts we are able to make to whatever some of the departments want to bond for, and then we hope to pass the resolution,” Hayner said.
It was Hayner who proposed tabling the bonding resolution at the council’s July 19 meeting, which was the first time the council was presented with the $13.7 million list of projects assembled by City Treasurer Mike Gifford from requests made by the city’s department heads.
Hayner said he moved to table the resolution at the July 19 meeting because Gifford was not there to answer questions about how the bonding process would proceed. Hayner said most of the members of the council, including himself, do not have any experience with ever having approved a bonding process.
“We weren’t able to have any bond workshops,” Hayner said. “We knew the bond was being worked on. We got to the meeting. We get our agenda, it’s on there, and we really didn’t have much time to discuss anything.”
Fourth Ward Councilman Max Spritzer said he first became aware of the list of the capital projects requested from an article in the Daily Gazette published June 29. He said a lack of communication between Gifford and the council has hindered the borrowing process.
“We’ve been left in the dark,” Spritzer said. “We were given a sheet of paper with items to purchase: here’s what it’s going to cost, now go ahead and approve or disapprove of it.”
The proposed borrowing is the largest in the city’s history and includes $7.3 million worth of projects proposed by the city’s independently elected Water Board — including a $4.6 million project to finish Phase II and Phase III repairs at the Hydaddy-Cork Center Storage Reservoir, long considered a priority project necessary to address potential “loss of life” hazards associated with the location in the event of a flood.
Gifford has not attended any meetings of the council since January, and has been embroiled in multiple controversies over the past year, including a New York State Comptroller’s Office report in March that was critical of Gifford stating, “The treasurer did not maintain accurate accounting records” and has failed to file the required Annual Update Documents [AUDs] with the comptroller’s office for 2018 and 2019.”
The Johnstown Water Board has also filed a lawsuit against the city, Gifford and Jackson, seeking to regain control of bank accounts containing city water fee revenue. Gifford seized control of the water department accounts in September 2020 under the authority of a city investment policy, which grants the elected treasurer sole signatory control over all of the city’s bank accounts. The Water Board’s lawsuit argues the city charter supersedes the investment policy and grants the independent board signatory control over the water revenue accounts.
Gifford has argued one of the reasons why he has not filed the AUDs for 2018 and 2019 is that a dispute between the city government and the elected Water Board — which had resulted in a Fulton County Grand Jury probe which ultimately recommended no indictments — had hindered his ability to have accurate oversight over the water revenue accounts, which are a part of those AUD reports. He has also argued he does not have accurate information for the city Fire Department’s Ambulance Service.
Spritzer said one question he would like answered before voting to approve the bonding process is whether the city’s delayed AUDs will result in a higher interest cost for the bond.
“Does the bad audit report increase the interest rate? How are we going to pay this off? What’s the time frame?” Spritzer said. “When we talk to the department heads the questions become, what’s an absolute need? Obviously, our lead fire truck is 30-years old, so it’s barely keeping up, and a lot of us council members feel the fire truck is a necessity.”
Gifford told the Daily Gazette in June the delayed AUDs will likely result in a higher interest rate for the bond.
“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.”
Hayner said a number of the items in the bond proposal are a priority and need to be acted on now, regardless of the city’s financial issues.
“It seems likely the AUD issue will affect our bond rating, but it is what it is now — we have to move forward with what we’ve got,” he said.
Both Spritzer and Hayner expressed skepticism about a second $200,000 ambulance requested by Fire Chief Bruce Heberer.
Hayner said tonight he hopes to ask Police Chief David Gilbo for more information about his request for five 2021 Dodge Durango pursuit SUVs, costing an estimated $266,215. Hayner said Gilbo has mentioned two of the vehicles will actually be a part of his 2022 regular budget request from the council, and don’t need to be included in the bond.
“I plan to ask the chief questions about that. It’s still unclear to me what he means,” Hayner said.
Neither Jackson nor Councilman-at-large Craig Talerico returned phone calls seeking comment for this story.
The special meeting will be held in the city Common Council chamber at 7 p.m.
Here is the list of Johnstown’s 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 Envelope temperature control system for city hall — $46,403
• Window replacement for city hall — $213,050
• Dept. of Public Works (DPW) building interior lighting — $59,708
• DPW heating system upgrade — $137,678
• DPW Building Envelope — $92,819
Dept. 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 repavement
• South Market St. — $160,000
• 2 Main. St. Park — $60,000
• lot behind O’Connor’s bar — $105,000
Johnstown Police Dept. — 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
• Radio’s 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 Dept. — total estimated costs $883,000
• Replacement for 1991 Frontline pumper truck — $635,000
• Replacement for utility pickup truck — $48,000
• 2nd 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 reservoirs — $16,425