Bath No. 2 is still afloat, but Albany is not out of the fiscal
deep end yet
During a marathon five-and-a-half-hour session Monday, the
Albany Common Council voted to keep operating Public Bath
No. 2, the indoor pool in Albany’s South End, through 2011
by using $216,736 from the city’s contingency fund.
However, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings could still veto the
council’s revised budget. The financial plan he initially
presented this fall would have closed the heated pool.
The council passed its revised $165 million 2011 budget ordinance
on Monday. Once finalized, it will increase residential taxes
by 7.5 percent (2 percent plus a mandatory 5.5 percent commercial-
residential property tax adjustment). This means the owner
of a $150,000 home would spend about $100 more per year in
The council also resurrected funding for another would-be
budget casualty—the arts—by passing an amendment sponsored
by Richard Conti (Ward 6). It splits $65,000 in grant money
between 26 city community arts organizations.
lot of small arts organizations are struggling and teetering,”
All fall, community members have been lobbying for Public
Bath No. 2 at council meetings. On Monday, a couple of them
carried signs reading “Keep our last bath” and “Please save
our pool.” During the public comment period preceding the
meeting, more citizens spoke up about the bathhouse than any
a few short years ago, I was too terrified to put my face
in the water,” Lynne Jackson of South Swan Street told the
council. “I learned how to swim at Bath House No. 2. Now I
can swim half a mile. It’s the only public pool in the city
that’s open in the daytime. We need places for people to exercise.
We need to teach children how to swim.”
The grassroots effort to save the pool has drawn attention
to a little-known resource in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
The 110-year-old building has been neglected for at least
Now, its champions say they want to leverage its historic
nature to get grants to fix it up. They want to introduce
more structured programming and court partnerships with local
schools and day-care facilities. They’re even considering
expanding it into more of a community center.
few people even know the bathhouse is there,” said South End
resident Jacqui Williams. “We’re looking at trying to raise
the awareness level and potentially raise fees. We believe
people are willing to pay a little bit more to keep it open,
to have signs so they know the building is there, and lights.”
At this point, the ball is in the mayor’s court. He hasn’t
used his veto power since he took office in January 1994.
If he vetoes the budget amendment that restores funding to
the pool, then the council has until Dec. 20 to consider an
Under the city charter, 10 votes—two thirds of the council
membership—are needed to override a veto.
The margin was 9 to 5 when the council approved Councilman
Frank Sano’s (Ward 9) amendment to keep the pool open. The
“no” votes were cast by council members Ronald Bailey (Ward
3), Frank Commisso (Ward 15), Daniel Herring (Ward 13), Joseph
Igoe (Ward 14) and Jacqueline Jenkins-Cox (Ward 5). The only
absent council member was Lester Freeman (Ward 2). The pool
is in his district.
The mayor’s office said on Tuesday that it was premature to
discuss a veto until Jennings has a chance to look over the
changes that the council made. Legally, the council had until
today (Thursday) to provide the mayor with a certified copy
of the budget ordinance and amendments.
Council members voted 8 to 6 to reduce expenditures by $95,000
by imposing a 10- percent across-the-board reduction in overtime
in the recreation and general-services departments. They voted
10 to 4 against an amendment that would have similarly reduced
public safety workers’ overtime. Albany’s fire and police
chiefs objected during a caucus preceding the meeting.
Fire and emergency services Chief Robert Forezzi Sr. warned
that stretching his 240-man force any thinner could cost lives,
because fires double in size every minute. Further budget
cuts could mean temporary closures at understaffed stations
or full-fledged station closings, he said.
you prepared to tell the people in your district why the fire
truck is late?” he asked. “Any reduction in my department
will jeopardize public safety.”
Councilman Commisso sponsored an amendment that would have
passed a portion of health insurance premium costs onto retirees.
But he withdrew the measure after retired workers and union
representatives complained. Many retirees, especially from
the ’70s era, are living “just above the poverty line,” Christian
Mesley of the Albany Police Officers Union told the council
would be a real catastrophe for a lot of retirees,” retired
firefighter Pat Fox said. “It would put them probably in the
Passing up the chance to shave expenses today will come back
to haunt the city tomorrow, Commisso cautioned.
think the official city financial policy is, ‘Let’s hope we
get a bag of cash next year from across the street,’ ” he
said. “We have an opportunity today to cut $1.7 million off
the city budget . . . and we don’t do it.”
The city faced a $23 million budget shortfall this year, largely
due to state aid cuts, declining sales tax revenue and increased
fixed costs such as pensions and health insurance. Next year,
even if state funding comes through, Commisso predicted, the
city will face “200 layoffs and a double-digit tax increase
to cover that hole.”
loose ends this week-