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Elected officials: Tough choices come with job

Opinion column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

We're gonna rock to the rules that I make. I want to be elected.

— Alice Cooper

If you're interested in seeing the not-so-fine art of "not in my backyard" on display, by all means attend an Albany City Commission meeting some Tuesday morning.

Even with the knowledge that they had to "borrow" more than $5 million to balance the city's current fiscal year budget, and even with a city manager who reminds them on something of a daily basis that they have to cut costs, commissioners can't seem to find the will to deny any sum of money requested by various special interest groups that come before them.

In just the past few weeks, the commission has:

— Allocated $150,000 more than was budgeted this year for Code Enforcement's blight cleanup program and OK'd another $125,000 for next year, despite City Manager James Taylor's suggestion that the program could be put on hold while finances were tight.

— Refused to end monthly Medicare B reimbursements to over-65 city retirees, pushing through a measure that will cost the city almost a half-million dollars a year and, according to a recent audit, more than $7.3 million during the life of the payments.

— Tentatively voted to give some $150,000 in funding to the Flint RiverQuarium over the next three months without that tourist attraction having a plan in place showing how it will continue to survive at the end of those three months.

— Refused to designate funds from a 1 percent hotel/motel tax increase (expected to net an additional $200,000 a year) for use in covering the almost $800,000 yearly shortfall the city must pay to operate the Albany Civic Center.

— Refused to return occupational taxes for smaller city businesses to 2007 levels or increase the amount that mid-size and larger businesses pay as part of a plan that would increase the general fund by as much as $180,000 a year.

Had the commission chosen to enact these measures suggested by Taylor and by city staff, the general fund would have realized a net increase of more than $1 million and the city would have found itself on more stable financial footing.

A little more than two months ago, Taylor outlined a proposed five-year strategic plan for the commission, noting that it included "eliminating some sacred cows." As he's watched the board vote down cost-cutting recommendation after cost-cutting recommendation, his frustration has become palpable.

"I'll keep making suggestions," he recently told me. "That's the way this system works: I make suggestions, and the commission makes decisions. But at some point, something's going to have to give.

"There are issues looming that we have no control over. But there are some things we can do. I think this board knows they can't just sit around this table and pretend they don't know what's going on. At some point, we'll have to take corrective action."

That point may be now. The Environmental Protection Division-ordered cleanup of a manufactured gas plant that could cost as much as $10 million will start early next year. Potentially costly litigation involving city personnel is something of a foregone conclusion. And recently announced closures or relocations of some well-established businesses in the city will further chip away at a once-solid tax base.

Only those without compassion would coldly declare that the City Commission should make every suggested cut that's come before it — chop expected funding from some of the oldest citizens in the city, refuse to help a struggling signature attraction that brings a great deal of joy and thousands of visitors to the city, stop taking down dilapidated buildings that are eyesores and havens for criminal activity.

As much as I believe there is a tremendous amount of waste in the city, I don't know that I would personally have the heart to look an 80-year-old former employee in the eye and tell her I'm taking away that $96 she's been relying on to supplement her meager income every month, and I don't know that I could visit the shop of a struggling small business owner and tell him he's going to have to pay another $50 to do business in the city.

But that's me. And I didn't make any promises to citizens of this city that I was willing to make such hard decisions if they'd elect me to represent them. The time is at hand for the seven people who did just that to start making good on those campaign promises.

Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.

Comments

wonderbread 2 years ago

the City Commission is being fed misinformation by the staff. They have identified the biggest cut necessary - reducing the number of employees from 910 down to 860. When the City achieves that the shortfall goes away. The Civic Center is wasting money and there is no interest in reducing the $1 million thrown at Chehaw every year.

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KaosinAlbany 2 years ago

Well, how about identifying those who are giving the misinformation and discipline or fire them. Oh and what about the need for a city spokesperson? I hear the city wants to hire one to talk to the press. What is that about, Roger? Inquiring minds want to know and those inquiring minds are tax payers and are your citizens of your ward. Perhaps the city is creating a job for a certain someone?

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waltspecht 2 years ago

It is time to tighten belts, stop funding lost causes and realize money is tight and will be getting tighter. That is called fiscal responsibility. Something not many Governmental agencies seem to grasp. Least of all the Office of the Presidency. Somehow they think you can spend your way out of bebt. Has never worked, and never will. Protectionizm, Free Enterprise funding and strict pay as you go budgets are the answer no one wants to hear. However, they may be the only saving grace.

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RedEric 2 years ago

It is dangerous to cut costs in a community of Gimmedats. That applies to Albany and D.C. I am beginning to believe we are going to be forced off of the fiscal cliff. Money has no real value to a Gimmedat. Money, to me, represents long work hours, giving up weekends and holidays, missing birthdays and other family events in order to get that very important project completed. Gimmedat money shows up in the mailbox every month. It has no personal value, so why not spend more. Falling off the cliff will result in reduced or eliminated monthly money in the Gimmedats mailbox and that will result in violence. I don't want to be so negative, but on this site and others Gimmedats are still blaming Bush for our fiscal problems, high unemployment and military involvement.

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Sister_Ruby 2 years ago

Wow.....very well put, R-E.

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LoneCycler 2 years ago

Why does the city pay James Taylor? Why have a manager on the payroll if you're not going to let him manage anything? It's laughable that the commission can decide to raise taxes on hotel rooms and then fail to decide what to do with the income. This alone is evidence they don't have a clue about what they're doing. The commission seems to be committed to raising taxes any time they can, but on all other issues they disagree.

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Sister_Ruby 2 years ago

It's a microcosm of the Nation........NOBODY IS WILLING TO CUT ANYTHING BECAUSE THERE WILL BE BLOWBACK AND SOMEBODY MIGHT GET VOTED OUT. Very simple....and the achilles heel of Democracy as de Tocqueville realized two hundred years ago.

If only there had never been any such a thing as a "Transfer Payment" invented by Democrats.

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Abytaxpayer 2 years ago

It is called fiscal responsibility. Not one of the commissioners has a clue how to run a business. They have no clue how money is made they only know how to take money (taxes). So to them money is easy to spend because it was easy to come by (just keep robbing from the ones who make money). Remember when one commissioner was facing legal actions over his failed money scams and NOT one of the other commissioners would speak against him. Birds of a feather flock together. Why be responsible with spending when someone else will wind up paying the bills. Cut their pay checks first then see how responsible they become!

Ever wonder what James Taylor is thinking at those meetings?

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Cartman 2 years ago

They're not Commissioners. They are our local FSA commanders.

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FryarTuk 2 years ago

Most of the city commissioners have lived or were raised out of the public trough. They have no concept of simple accounting. You must have two entries for every item on your ledger sheet - revenue in and expense out. For the commissioners have never been concerned with how the revenue comes in rather just spend. They have absolutely no idea about the side of democracy that requires accountability, prudence and responsibility. None of them, not one. They are mostly good people, some are lazy and corrupt, but mostly they are good clueless people who are blind but not willing to be lead. I have come to believe James Taylor is trying to do a responsible, ethical job but with the city commission he has a bunch of potato heads with whom to work and who are only consumers.

Good article, Fuzz Face.

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