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State Of The City: Un$ettled


Municipal operations are about to undergo a major overhaul in Albany.

At civic inaugural ceremonies in early January, Chief City of Albany Auditor Leif Engstrom painted a gloomy picture of Albany's financial condition.   "Regardless of how well we do in cutting costs and balancing the budget and making Albany a more vibrant and successful city, we'll still have about 40 million dollars in street maintenance needs with about 5 million dollars to meet them. Our city schools will still have crowded classrooms and our property taxes will still be as high as they can realistically go.  And these are a few of our challenges."

The cause for concern: a shaky financial situation inherited from the previous administration, a deficit of $16 million.  Push came to shove Thursday night when Mayor Kathy Sheehan gave her first State of the City address, calling for a complete overhaul of city operations.   "We are in a situation where I believe we can only benefit from going to the restructuring board, asking them to look at our situation, and provide us with recommendations."  In that WNYT audio clip, Sheehan is referencing the New York State Financial Restructuring Board: to save money and maybe find more, the mayor will ask the Common Council to green light a comprehensive review by that panel.

Sheehan's plans include establishing a new office of Budget and Finance that will oversee human resources, purchasing, assessment, and the budget.  Then, there's technology: Sheehan has often spoke of bringing city ops "into the 21st century." She wants to embrace technology in her effort to streamline day-to-day operations, as per suggestions from Auditor Engstrom.  "The things that I have recommended in many audits and the things that are being adopted is moving forward with better technology across the board and getting a better timekeeping system for all employees in the city."

Common Council President Carolyn McLaughlintold WNYT desperate times call for desperate measures.  "We have to do things and we have to think out of the box. We have to do unconventional things to move our city forward. Some of it is going to hurt as we do it, but in the long run, I think we'll be a better city."

Among Sheehan's plans and challenges:  create a land-bank to mitigate fallout from the scheduled closure of the city landfill at the end of the decade; answer growing citizen concerns about gun violence and rehabilitate abandoned properties to get them back onto the tax rolls.

The mayor believes her new vision for Albany is achievable and gives her administration a one-year time limit to accomplish all of her goals.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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