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C ITY OF A LBANY
C OMMON C OUNCIL
November 20, 2016
Mayor Kathy Sheehan
City Hall
24 Eagle Street
Albany, NY 12207
Via Email
Dear Mayor Sheehan:
We write to address the 2017 Proposed Budget and the broader fiscal condition of the City of
Albany. When you took office in January of 2014 you inherited a municipality with modest fiscal
challenges. Just 35 months later Albany is wholly overwhelmed by fiscal crisis. The facts are
indisputable: the State Comptroller designated the City of Albany to be the most “fiscally
stressed” city in the state; S&P downgraded Albany’s credit rating with a negative outlook; the
Governor mandated the city to commence multi-year financial planning (yet to be implemented);
and of the $20 million of reserves inherited by your administration, $15 million were depleted
during your first 24 months in office. Sadly, all of this occurred while Albany became less
affordable for homeowners, renters, businesses and workers. Property taxes, fees and fines have
all increased, our employees continue to work without contracts and our taxable economy is
sluggish.
We can produce only two examples of your administration attempting to remedy Albany’s fiscal
crisis, neither of which should be points of pride. First, your administration has successfully
diverted millions of dollars away from public authorities which you effectively control through
the appointment of governing board members. But reducing the capability of the Albany Parking
Authority, Albany Port District Commission and Albany Water Board to fulfill their important
core missions – like by performing preventative maintenance on our sewer and water delivery
systems - is not an example of sound fiscal management. Second, your administration
implemented a discriminatory trash fee on Albany residents with less wealth. We hesitate to
discuss this fee as somehow related to waste collection (other than in name only) since the
amount an individual pays has no relationship to the amount of trash produced by a given
household. Rather, this fee was structured and implemented in such a way as to place financial
hardship on persons renting, rather than owning, their homes. At best this is a highly regressive
form of revenue extraction, and at its most sinister was developed specifically to target those
individuals least likely to participate in off-year elections. Further, we are not at all convinced
that the law that established this fee (and those proceeds collected pursuant to this fee) would
withstand a legal challenge. Under any circumstances we believe there is an abundance of
evidence to suggest that this fee has no scientific or technical basis and should therefore be
eliminated.
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The factors producing negative budget experience during your time as Mayor are plentiful. As
you now know, your administration’s red-light camera program has failed. For 2015 and 2016,
your administration budgeted $2.0 and $1.9 million, respectively, as new revenue from the
program. Not only has this program not generated revenue, it has actually come to represent a
significant expense after accounting for personnel costs associated with the program. For 2015,
$5 million was budgeted as new revenue from the sale of city-owned property in Coeymans. The
sale has not occurred. These irresponsible projections represented $8.9 million of unrealized
revenue, and more importantly, prevented an overdue discourse of budgetary and programmatic
priorities of the city.
Your 2017 Proposed Budget fails to reverse the city’s negative fiscal trajectory. For the third
consecutive year, the budget is littered with errors. The proposal is presented in a non-transparent
format that does not display raises for political appointees. This deviation from the statewide
practice of displaying the prior year actuals, the current year budgeted and current year amended
has made the process of reviewing your proposal challenging for many stakeholders. Your
administration’s plan continues the practice of booking “ERP Savings” (which exceeds
$750,000) that your own staff cannot adequately explain.
Despite assertions to the contrary, your disingenuous commitment to a hiring freeze is apparent,
as non-essential positions (some of which are vacant), continue to be funded and filled. Overtime
exceeds $5.6 million, and was not thoroughly reviewed for reduction. Your proposal fails to
embrace a clear shared-service opportunity with Albany County to produce improved recreation
programming at a reduced cost. This shared-service opportunity would improve the quality of
our recreation programming, which struggled this year with just 87 children enrolled in our
summer camps and clinics. Your administration continues to resist the intuitive merger of parks
maintenance functions currently embedded within the departments of General Services and
Recreation. Needed capital funding for the repair of Lincoln Park Pool, which the city engineer
identified as a public safety risk, is not included in the proposal. The effectiveness of outside
consultants and contractors is not being monitored by your administration as evidenced by the
continued use of outside attorneys that are not rigorously evaluated.
Funding for an audit of the tax-exempt status of Albany’s largest tax-exempt entities, which
would pay for itself many times over, is not included in this proposal. A review of the financial
relationship between the City of Albany and the Capitalize Albany Corporation continues to be
avoided by your administration. We owe Albany taxpayers a rigorous review of economic
development outcomes, which would reveal a system that promotes corporate welfare over
generating new property tax receipts and job opportunities. Finally, your proposal is silent on
your attempt earlier this year to sell the city-owned Palace Theater for one dollar. Despite your
administration weakening the city’s negotiating position as it relates to a potential sale, we hope
all involved parties now recognize that the Palace Theater should be sold only for fair market
value.

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The positive fiscal impact of strengthened controls over personnel costs, inclusive of a real hiring
freeze, would easily provide funding to eliminate the discriminatory trash fee ($1.54 million)
referenced above. Further, if many of the other items noted in this letter were addressed through
good faith deliberation in the coming months, we know that a portion of the $12.5 million you
budgeted in new state monies could be dedicated (if received) toward property tax relief,
replenishing city reserves, improved city programming, city infrastructure needs and resolving
long-standing labor impasses, rather than being used merely to maintain a failed status quo.
Given the previous actions of your administration and those of our colleagues that choose to
follow President Pro Temp Richard Conti, we never expected a good faith review of your
proposal to occur. It appears that we were correct as your budget seems poised for passage on
Monday with minimal changes. The current amendment merely corrects errors in your proposal
and maintains the structure of your discriminatory trash fee. Missing is any indication of a
thoughtful review of your proposal and its impact on homeowners, renters, businesses and
workers.
We reject this budget, your administration’s gross inexperience with municipal finance, and your
inability to address the needs of every day Albany residents. Albany’s homeowners, renters,
businesses and workers deserve nothing less than a City Hall committed to fiscal competency
and equity.
If you or Mr. Conti choose to reverse course in the next handful of hours, we stand ready to
implement these critical reforms.
Sincerely,

Frank Commisso, Jr.
15th Ward

Ronald E. Bailey
3rd Ward

Mark Robinson
5th Ward

Judd W. Krasher
11th Ward

cc: Members of the Albany Common Council

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