In tough economic times like these, governments have to look for savings anywhere they can get them. But the Schenectady County Legislature’s decision to eliminate county historian Don Rittner’s nearly $25,000-a-year job in its recently adopted budget and contract out for historian services will save relatively little — around $10,000. And considering the knowledge, passion and creativity he brings to the job, as well as the local and outside attention he brings to Schenectady and its history, it must be considered a net loss.
Rittner, like Larry Hart before him, served as both city and county historian until the city eliminated that position two years ago. But little was lost when that happened because Rittner, in his other job and on his own time, continued to do a variety of things to help and promote Schenectady. One of them was to develop the Schenectady Film Commission, which has resulted in several television and movie productions here, including a soon-to-be-released feature-length film that brought attention to the city and county and was a boon to the local economy.
This is just one example of Rittner using his research, knowledge and initiative on behalf of Schenectady. Others include helping to create a successful monthly arts night, as well as guided tours, construction of the 17-century Dutch sailing ship replica the Onrust, and preservation of more than $4 million in federal historic tax credits for Proctors during its expansion.
Contracting out Rittner’s job will still cost the county $15,000, and whoever does it — the county doesn’t know that yet — is unlikely to do it with such dedication or as well. It may not even be legal, because state law apparently requires counties to have appointed historians. Bad move.