AMSTERDAM -- Mayor Michael Villa delivered the 2019 State of the City address Wednesday, and reminded the public that there's more to Amsterdam than the city's $8.347 million budget deficit.
Villa said when he ran for mayor he knew his administration would need to rectify the city's wayward financial situation. In an approximately 30 minute speech, delivered before a packed Common Council chamber with many city employees in the audience, Villa said that after many years of the city's finances being "cloaked in darkness" the city now has a path forward.
"It is what it is. It's not a pretty picture, but Amsterdam has a bright future ahead. I don't want everybody to get focused just on the financial aspects of the city," he said.
On Tuesday Jeffrey Smith, president of Canandaigua-based Municipal Solutions Inc., delivered a report to the Common Council titled "The City of Amsterdam: The Fiscal Storm is Here," in which he recommended the city raise taxes by 10 to 12 percent for the 2019-20 budget, and request the state Legislature pass home-rule legislation that would allow the city to borrow enough money in short-term bonds to make its general fund whole for the large deficit built up between 2008-2018.
The reasons for the deficit are complex and were exacerbated by inadequate bookkeeping practices, chaos caused by a resignation and a death in the city Controller's Office. Further, the city failed to foreclose on any properties for more than a six-year period, overestimated revenue and underestimated expenses. Villa said the city has started to straighten its finances out thanks to City Controller Matt Agresta and its independent audit firm the EFPR Group.
"As we look ahead to 2019 the city will be current with all of its financials. Although the numbers are bleak we finally have accurate figures enabling us to plan accordingly," he said.
Villa listed some of the corrective actions that have occurred during his administration, including holding two foreclosure auctions that brought in more than $2 million in revenue and helped compel delinquent property taxpayers to pay-up.
The mayor included a long list of significant grants and city initiatives in his speech, including the award of the $10 million New York State Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant.
Some other highlights for Amsterdam include:
u Amsterdam's East End and northern neighborhood areas were formally designated as Brownfields Opportunity Areas, which will provide tax incentives to developers who redevelop old industrial sites within the designated BOA.
u The Land Bank, a cooperative effort with the city of Schenectady, has recently gained a $2 million grant from New York state. To date, the Land Bank has demolished 14 units of dilapidated housing on Division Street and Guy Park Avenue; nine units on Forbes Street; five units on John Street; and two units on Jackson Street. The Land Bank has rehabilitated 13 units of housing in various neighborhoods in the city at a cost of over $900,000. The Land Bank is looking to demolish seven unsafe structures on Academy and Union Street neighborhoods in 2019.
u The City Hall restoration received a $224,000 grant to rehabilitate the portico on the southeast side of the building, which was completed in 2018.
u Mohawk Valley Gateway Overlook Pedestrian Bridge received $650,000 worth of state grants to build bathroom facilities and art work for the bridge.
Villa also pointed to the transformation of the city Recreation Department into the Tourism Marketing and Recreation Department. He said the change was a new direction for the city, which included the hiring of Danielle Whelly, assistant director of recreation for the city, and Michele Pawlik as the city's new tourism and recreation assistant. Villa said the number of city sponsored events has grown from 12 in 2016 to 26 planned for 2019.
Another addition to the city has been Amanda Bearcroft, the city's community and economic development director. Villa said Bearcroft will be pivotal to the city's applications for state grants.