I try to avoid repeating myself when I write these columns; so I occasionally look back at what I’ve written in the past to prevent repetition. The other advantage of looking back is that it reminds me of how I viewed things in the past and how those views influenced current events. A column I wrote in 2008, about 7½ years ago, caught my eye today as we prepare for the 2017 budget season.
I was writing about the financial crisis that hit just before the 2008 election and expressed some confidence in the City’s future:
The City of Albany is in reasonably good condition to weather the current storm. We have sufficient resources to continue providing high quality services and meet current obligations. We have reserved funds to help meet unanticipated expenses or declines in revenue, and we have avoided taking on new financial obligations. Our past prudence puts us in a position to deal with problems and take advantage of opportunities presented by current economic conditions. Declining land values, for example, may allow us to find the property we need for new fire and police facilities at a more affordable price. Selling bonds to construct the facilities, however, may be more of a challenge.
Thanks to some good choices by policy makers, great effort by employees past and present, and the continuing trust of the people who employ us, the City of Albany was able to maintain services during the recession without making dramatic cuts or a large number of layoffs. We were also able to attract new investment and make progress toward long-standing goals. We were able to purchase the land for new facilities at prices lower than we would pay today and were eventually able to secure the funds needed to build new police and fire stations. The lingering low interest rates created by the recession even allowed us to sell bonds at a favorable rate.
The lessons of the past may prove useful to us in the future, but 2008 is no longer relevant to conditions we face today. Albany’s economy is expanding, more people are choosing to live here, and demands for services are increasing. While it has been slow in coming, we are seeing increases in our major revenue sources that will help pay for increased expenses that are largely beyond our control. The good news is that while we face no imminent threat to services and the people who provide them, the bad news is that we still are not keeping pace with increasing demand.
I believe the problem is manageable, and I have seen it serve as inspiration for creative solutions. We have cut energy costs, collaborated with other jurisdictions, made better use of technology, and used interdepartmental project teams to help align expenses with revenue. The need for innovation will only grow larger in the years ahead.
I am still optimistic and confident about Albany’s future. We made good choices in the past to cope with the challenges of the future, and I believe the next generation of leaders will do the same. Focusing on what residents view as most important, balancing expenses to revenue, and looking for better ways to do things represent why Albany has reason to be confident in the years ahead.