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Amsterdam, NY ,


Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff Amsterdam 1st Ward Alderman Joe Isabel talks about the need for an arts center for the children in the community.

Rebecca Webster/Recorder staff Amsterdam Mayor Ann Thane takes notes Tuesday.


Sparks fly over bills for maintaining arts center in Amsterdam

Wednesday, February 06, 2013 - Updated: 5:29 PM


Recorder News Staff

Amsterdam's Creative Connections Arts Center brought some heated discussion during a Common Council Tuesday night.

And the sparks came from a call for maintenance to be done to the city-owned building at East Main Street and Vrooman Avenue. It was eventually rejected when the matter failed to garner enough votes to pass.

On the floor Tuesday was a resolution for a Recreation Department budget amendment to cover expenses incurred at the art's building for "emergency repair of the furnace, installation of carpet, and repair and painting of rooms," the resolution said.

City resident Diane Hatzenbuhler got the first shots at the resolution during public comment period.

"I don't understand how this is working," Hatzenbuhler said. "The city is not in the financial position for recarpeting a whole building, painting ... these items were not budgeted."

After a long rant, mainly focusing on the art's center, Hatzenbuhler was told her five minutes was up, but she refused to leave the podium.

After numerous knocks from Mayor Ann Thane's gavel, a threat from the mayor to expel her from the chambers and a standing glance from Amsterdam Police Chief Gregory Culick, Hatzenbuhler eventually took her seat.

This brought Recreation Director Rob Spagnola to the podium to rebut some of Hatzenbuhler's comments and concerns.

"The resolution that we have up tonight is for money that we incur in expenses down there," Spagnola said.

With "trip spots" on the carpeting and holes in the wall, they are things that need to be fixed, he said.

"For years we wanted a place for the kids," he said, adding that the programs that have been going on at the former Clara S. Bacon school building have been thriving, due to the help of a local volunteer organization called Wishful Thinking. "Now we have another opportunity."

"We need another building like the arts center to have programming in. ... It's going to happen and to not take care of this building would be a travesty."

Spagnola said all of the programming will be run through the Recreation Department.

Fifth Ward Alderman Richard Leggiero questioned whether any of the organizations or groups that are using the building are being charged, but Spagnola said no, adding that the community response in the form of donations for the Bacon building will likely occur for the arts center.

Thane added that with the classes that are lined up to begin this month, 70 percent of the funding goes to the class instructor while 30 percent goes toward the building expenses.

"No ones pays rent. It's provided to our community for use and educational and recreational opportunities," she said.

Eventually, when the resolution was on the floor for discussion and vote by the council, raised voices and debate chatter continued.

Fourth Ward Alderman David Dybas asked if someone would explain the accounting involved, as the accounts, he said, were nowhere near over-budget.

"I'm sorry, I don't agree with this at all," he said.

Third Ward Alderwoman Gina DeRossi said she too was confused.

Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis began to explain the reasoning behind the budget shifts.

But Dybas eventually made a motion to table the resolution.

The motion failed, and 1st Ward Alderman Joseph Isabel voiced his concerns about the children.

"We're finally doing something here to help the kids in the community and we're making problem with this. I know you work with numbers all day long, but let's not deprive the kids of something," he said, turning toward 2nd Ward Alderman Valerie Beekman.

This set Beekman off.

"I may work with numbers all day, but you need to do something in decency and order and to teach kids," she said, adding that she's worked with kids in the community for a long time.

"As a community, as leaders, we are teaching kids right from wrong. Effective immediately I will donate my salary to pay for this. You can have my salary," she said.

A few people in the room clapped, including the mayor.

Leggiero said he agreed with Beekman.

"We have nothing against it, nothing at all, but do it right," he echoed.

DeRossi asked the mayor what effect it would have on the center if the funds weren't in place tonight, to which Thane responded that it has the potential to cause some difficulties down the line for the Recreation Department.

Discussion erupted about when it was stated that the city would pay the utility bills for the center.

Thane said she received the call last February that the building was owned by the city.

"We have been paying the utility costs and so now we would like to start having programming and events to start to generate revenue," she said.

In the end, the resolution to amend the budget to accommodate the maintenance to the Vrooman Avenue building did not pass because of a 3-3 tie. The mayor votes on budget matters, and she, along with Isabel and DeRossi, voted in favor of it, but "no" votes from Beekman, Dybas and Leggiero scuttled the plan.


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