Monthly Archives: April 2013

Amsterdam Spends Wisely


According to the Amsterdam City Charter, the Budget Review Board consists of the Mayor, five Alderman and City Controller who each have a deciding vote. The preliminary budget is supposed to be prepared by the Controller after the department heads have each submitted their proposed budget requests. March 1, 2013, is the date the working tentative budget should be presented and May 1, 2013, is the date the Budget Review Board is to adopt a final budget.

Since this writer has kept track (about five years), the budget review process has never gone smoothly. I never understood why the City of Amsterdam Controller, an elected position, had a vote on  city budget matters or the Mayor either for that matter. The legislative body of government (Alderman) was formed for that purpose while the executive (Mayor) approved or vetoed legislation.

This year’s budget negotiation is without a Controller. The City of Amsterdam’s last Controller, Ron Wierzbecki, died in December and the Common Council decided to continue without appointing an interim. Instead they chose to create a Deputy Controller, an appointed position to serve in that capacity. An experienced accountant, David Mitchell was hired to the $75,000, 6 year post. Things seem to be going smoothly since he took over the reins but I’m sure he still has some catching up to do.

The City of Amsterdam Budget Review Board met on Tuesday, April 23, 2013, to hear budget presentations from City Department heads. This year’s Budget Review Board consists of Mayor Ann Thane, 1st Ward Alderman Joe Isabel, 2nd Ward Alderman Valerie Beekman, 3rd Ward Alderman Gina DeRossi, 4th Ward Alderman Dave Dybas, 5th Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero, Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis and Deputy Controller David Mitchell. Legally the Deputy Controller and Corporation Counsel have no vote on the city budget. Corporation Counsel DeCusatis certainly had his say in both preparing the budget and active negotiations. It seems he has stepped in the role of  Controller.  In fact, the preliminary budget was prepared by Thane and DeCusatis who took it upon themselves to add items and even new employees to the department head budgets without their consent. This revealed itself as the department heads each presented their budgets last night.

Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course Maintenance Supervisor Jim Derrick

Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course Maintenance Supervisor Jim Derrick

_MG_1517

Mayor Ann Thane, Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis, Alderman Valerie Beekman, Alderman Gina Derossi, Alderman Joe Isabel

_MG_1520

DeCuasatis, Beekman, DeRossi, Isabel

_MG_1524

Jim Derrick, Golf Commission Chairman Mike Bucciferro

_MG_1526

Amsterdam City Engineer Richard Miller

_MG_1528

Rick Morrison reporting live from the budget hearing

_MG_1530

Ann Thane, Gerard DeCusatis

_MG_1531

Deputy Controller David Mitchell, Alderman Richard Leggiero, Alderman Dave Dybas

_MG_1533

DPW General Foreman Ray Halgas

_MG_1535

Transportation Director Cheryl Scott

_MG_1537

Recreation Director Rob Spagnola

_MG_1539

Recorder Reporter Rebecca Webster

_MG_1540

Rebecca Webster

_MG_1545

Mitchell, Leggiero, Dybas

Director of Community and Economic Development Robert von Hasseln

Director of Community and Economic Development Robert von Hasseln

_MG_1550

Rob von Hasseln

Placed in the Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course budget was a cart fee of $2.00 per cart applicable to everyone driving a cart on the course. The Review Board decided to remove that fee with Alderman Beekman stating it was unfair for those that own carts housed at the course who already pay cart storage and membership fees. There was a discussion about hiring a general manager for the course next year but that was not figured in their budget for this season.

City Engineer Richard Miller argued for increased hours for his secretary from 30 to 35 hours a week. That request was approved pending a Civil Service agreement.

DPW General Foreman Ray Halgas found a newly created supervisor position in his budget that Mayor Thane admitted she placed there. The Mayor wanted the position to keep an eye on crews and people who tend to take too long during breaks. She stated her office constantly receives calls that DPW crews are hanging out at Stewarts or other convenience stores for extended periods of time. This new employee position was voted down by the Budget Review Board.  Halgas seemed a bit uneasy about the Montgomery Otsego Schoharie Solid Waste Management agreement scheduled to end this time next year with no current negotiation pending for a replacement or new contract.  Alderman Dybas congratulated Halgas for finally getting both street sweepers working. Halgas stated a new sweeper will arrive this year, describing problems he has had maintaining the older sweepers.

Transportation Director Cheryl Scott presented her budget with an irregularity noticed in last year’s electric bill that the Deputy Controller stated he would help work out. As an aside, Alderman Isabel turned to the media table of reporters to state the Transportation Budget requires a taxpayer subsidy amounting to $326,000 per year to run. Low cost transportation is provided around the City of Amsterdam, to County Offices in Fonda, To Fulton-Montgomery Community College as well as daily trips to Albany, NY.

Recreation Director Rob Spagnola has taken on added responsibilities this year with the establishment the Beacon School Recreation Center and the Creative Connections Art Center. With help from a part-time Recreation Assistant, programming was created for both the young and old. The addition of Union College Baseball to Shuttleworth Park will bring astro turf paving. Spagnola asked for a salary increase for himself and full-time hours for his assistant stating he was the oldest tenured Director who loves his job and has never asked for a salary increase before. The Recreation budget also included a $10,000 revolving fund to help defray costs of programming, with the understanding that the money would be replenished from programming services rendered. His requests were unanimously approved by the Board.

Director of Community and Economic Development Rob von Hasseln completed his first year in the new position, giving a status report of developments. He reiterated that while still performing the City Historian job, he no longer receives the $5,000 stipend. Von Hasseln also stated that he saves the City money by not accepting the health insurance as he already has health insurance through his US Army retirement. Von Hasseln was also responsible for helping to create and sell the revolving fund for recreation services. Thanks Rob!

While this three-hour Budget Review Board meeting was only one of many, it does seem things are running better than earlier years. Only time (tax and utility bills) will tell.

Advertisements
Categories: Amsterdam, Law, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Angry Jesuit Blocks Entrance to Buddhist Temple


_MG_1395B

The angry Leprechaun pictured is Fr. George H. Belgarde, S.J. Director of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine in Auriesville, NY, who recently ordered a barricade built on Shrine Road, blocking access to the Western Supreme Buddha Temple and headquarters of the World Peace and Heath Organization adjacent to the Shrine. The barricade, built with tree trunks and a sawhorse, was adorned with a large black sign with the word CLOSED painted in red.

_MG_1385C

This blogger received a call today from WPHO spokesperson, fellow Buddhist and friend Jennie Wong who had just returned to this area from another mission in China. She asked if I would meet her at the WPHO headquarters to help figure out why this barricade was blocking access to their property at 174 Shrine Road. This barricade not only blocks Buddhists it also prevents mail from being delivered and emergency vehicles from reaching the Temple.

I arrived before Ms Wong and decided to go to the Shrine Office and ask about the barricade. A pleasant receptionist greeted me and I introduced myself stating my business. She entered the next room informing the occupants and told me I could go right in. I saw a small man dressed in black talking with someone else and heard him state “…and he has a camera”. As I approached the next room he stated, “You can wait” and went on with his conversation for another five minutes. I was met by a visibly angry and generally disagreeable little man who I found out later was Fr.Belgarde, the Shrine’s Director. I introduced myself and asked about the barricade. He declined to answer any of my questions stating he would need to see my identification. I gave him my driver’s license which he stared at for about a minute. He then asked me for documentation stating I was a Buddhist. Apparently my physical appearance differed from what he assumed a Buddhist should look like. Another man wearing a red plaid shirt entered the room and stated, “I think I’m the person you want to talk to, I put up the barricade”. He was then silenced by Belgarde, still clinging on to my license, who told the worker he (Belgarde), was taking care of this. After refusing to answer any of my questions, it appeared that Belgarde was enjoying trying to antagonize me. I then asked for my license back and left the building.

Jennie Wong and three other members of the WPHO arrived and we all took another trip down to the Shrine Office only to be met outside by the Jesuit and maintenance worker. Once again they refused to answer any of our questions, referring us to their lawyers. Ms Wong tried reasoning with the Jesuit, asking him to remove the CLOSED sign as it looked as if the WPHO headquarters was closed and not just the road. The antagonistic Jesuit then ordered us to leave HIS property. We then took a trip to the NYS Troopers headquarters in Fonda. Trooper Matt Wheeler, a true professional, listened to the story, made suggestions and agreed to take a look at the barricade and talk to Belgarde. When we returned to Shrine Road we were greeted by a Montgomery County Sheriff who quickly entered his vehicle and moved it to further block the road when he saw us coming. He then exited his vehicle and was in the process of telling us to leave when Trooper Wheeler arrived explaining the other side of the story.

_MG_1396

_MG_1392

_MG_1403A

_MG_1402

_MG_1386

The result of the debate between the law enforcement officers hinged on whether Shrine Road was a County road or a private road. It appears on maps as a County Road, in which case the barricade is illegal. Part of the original deed agreement was that an alternate access road would be built. While this road was built connecting the Temple with Ridley Road, it has not been graded or paved and does not appear on official maps, GPS or EMS response systems. The steep base of the road makes it difficult to travel without sliding.

What was once a harmonious relationship under the Shrine’s former Director Fr. Murray is now antagonistic and non-communicative under the direction of Fr.George H.Belgarde who appears to have an ax to grind.

Can’t we all just get along?

UPDATE:

Journalist Ed Munger Jr. wrote a great, objective article about this incident titled “Surprise barricade cuts Buddhist Temple access”. It is published in the April 8, 2013, edition of the Daily Gazette. The article can be found at http://www.dailygazette.com.

Categories: Amsterdam, Human Rights, Law, Politics, WPHO | Tags: , , , ,

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: