Amsterdam Common Council puts forward $38.71 million 2023-24 city budget

The Amsterdam Common Council and consulting City Controller Louise Biron discuss final adjustments to the 2023-24 city budget proposal at an emergency workshop on Monday. ASHLEY ONYON/THE RECORDER

The Amsterdam Common Council and consulting City Controller Louise Biron discuss final adjustments to the 2023-24 city budget proposal at an emergency workshop on Monday. ASHLEY ONYON/THE RECORDER

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AMSTERDAM — The Amsterdam Common Council is prepared to adopt a $38.71 million 2023-24 city budget, which would keep increases to the property tax rate and user fees at the levels previously proposed by Mayor Michael Cinquanti.

The Council called an emergency budget workshop on Monday to discuss final adjustments to the spending plan and address confusion surrounding proposed salary bumps for the offices of mayor and city clerk.

“It was unclear through email exchanges where we were,” said 1st Ward Alderwoman Kelly Quist-Demars, who requested the final budget workshop. “We needed to sit down and talk about it again.”

Officials signed off on a $10,000 raise for the mayor and $1,500 raise for the clerk after learning from consulting City Controller Louise Biron that the costs could be absorbed without any impact to the tax rate and user fees by slightly reducing contingency funds budgeted for next fiscal year.

Raising the mayor’s salary will need to be approved by local law later this year before taking effect at the start of the next elected term on Jan. 1. The raise would therefore kick in halfway through the city’s fiscal year, meaning only $5,000 had to be accounted for in this budget.

The Council last week agreed in principle to raise the mayor’s salary to $65,000 to make the wage more competitive and attract diverse candidates to the important post managing city business. It would be the first pay bump since the existing $55,000 salary was set in 1997.

Backing for the measure had been in doubt after officials were later told there would be some slight impact to taxpayers. Third Ward Alderwoman Irene Collins was clear she would only support the raise if it could be achieved without further increases to the property tax rate or user fees for sanitation, water and sewer.

“We have to keep in mind the taxpayer is the one that’s paying and to us it’s only a couple cents, but to somebody a couple cents means a lot,” Collins said.

Deputy Mayor and 5th Ward Alderman James Martuscello last week also made a late request to raise City Clerk Stefanie Gerken’s salary to $51,500. She reportedly left the decision up to the Council, not realizing any request for a raise should have been in her departmental budget filed at the start of the budget process. The $1,500 bump falls in line with raises for other non-union staff and 3% raises negotiated recently with the collective bargaining units at City Hall.

Council members agreed unanimously to include both salary increases in the budget, pointing to the incremental increases as necessary to prevent further wage stagnation and to avoid having to make larger lump sum adjustments in the future. The clerk’s pay was increased by about 14% last year to establish closer parity with the pay for other city department heads.

“We were playing catch up last year and we’re going to keep playing catch up if we don’t use the same increments that we use for bargaining units,” Quist-Demars said.

The decisions wrap up the Council’s budget review process to set the proposed city budget at $38.71 million. The spending plan comes in above the $38.26 million budget proposed by Cinquanti, but revenues and appropriated fund balance were adjusted to maintain increases to the property tax rate and user fees at levels put forward by the mayor.

“I think it’s fair,” Martuscello said of the spending plan. “We did a good job again. We went through every budget line item, we didn’t miss anything, we got the department heads in here, we tried to keep the taxes down and the mayor came out with a good, strong budget.”

Under the proposed budget, the tax rate would increase by 17 cents to $19.02 per $1,000 of assessed value. Altogether, user fees would increase by $33.60 to a combined $1,188.14 assessed per dwelling unit. Owners of single-family homes assessed at $100,000 would pay the city about $50 more next year.

The mayor’s proposal maintained staffing and services while covering departmental needs, contractual pay increases, rising insurance costs and debt service fees. Funds were also allocated for economic development initiatives to grow the tax base and equipment purchases.

Subsequent adjustments by the Council largely dealt with incorporating cost projections received after the mayor’s proposal was submitted and changes recommended by the state Comptroller’s Office. The mayor’s budget is subject to the state review under a 2019 law allowing the city to borrow $7.7 million to finance its accumulated budget deficit.

“It’s a good budget. There is only so much we’re able to cut out of it,” Collins said. “It’s the taxpayer that we really have to keep focus on. It’s very difficult for them, especially when they’re living on limited funds.”

The largest change the Council made was the addition of $1.3 million in spending in the water fund for a planned project to clear vegetation around the transmission line carrying the city’s raw water supply to the treatment plan on Brookside Avenue from reservoirs in Saratoga County.

Dense growth surrounding the transmission line in some wooded areas could prevent access to the transmission line for days in the event of a break. The city would lose water pressure within 24 hours. An apparent low bid of $1.25 million for the tree clearing project was returned this month. The work has not yet been awarded, but the Council added funding for it to the budget and an equal $1.3 million appropriation from the water fund balance to cover the expense.

“If we don’t have water, that’s a big problem, it’s been a longtime coming,” Collins said of the project needed to ensure public health and safety.

Another $10,000 was added to the budget for park maintenance as well as $5,000 to replace aging furniture in the council chambers at City Hall. Quist-Demars previously argued the city should invest in gradual improvements. Amsterdam typically relies on donations or grants to cover the cost of installing new equipment or making upgrades to parks.

“I hope city residents are seeing the increased benefit of what we’re doing,” Quist-Demars said. “We’re trying our best to cover services we need in public safety, roads and infrastructure that city residents rely on and are the reason I choose to live in the city.”

The Common Council has scheduled a special meeting to adopt the proposed budget at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. The spending plan will subsequently be submitted to Cinquanti for consideration. He can file objections to any of the Council’s amendments until noon on June 15.

Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

Categories: -News-, Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News

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