Get involved with city budget process

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We applaud Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo and her staff, in particular City Treasurer David Nolan, for their efforts in crafting the city’s proposed $44.9 million 2021 budget.

To their credit, the mayor’s proposed spending plan does not shift costs — including making up budget gaps created by decreased revenues — associated with the COVID-19 pandemic to taxpayers. The plan does not raise general city taxes for residents in either the city’s inside or outside districts.

City officials apparently understand that area residents and businesses simply cannot afford an increase in property taxes amid the huge financial unknowns of the coming year. Regrettably, but understandably, the proposed budget does call for a 5.75% increase in sewer rates and a flat $50 increase in refuse fees.

Over the past several years, the city had moved away from the practice of using accrued budget surplusses to balance upcoming budgets; however, the proposed $44.9 million plan does apply nearly $1.2 million of the city reserves. We appreciate the balancing act officials must undergo in the current financial climate, and, in this case, the application of such “rainy day funds” is appropriate and preferable to a tax increase for residents.

The spending plan is not without pain. It eliminates two full-time positions and nearly a half-dozen part time positions and some five temporary employees in the city’s Department of Public Works.

Despite those changes, personnel continues to be the biggest driver of city expenses, Fringe benefits, namely health insurance and retirement benefits, comprise 24.36% of expenses; while police and fire, including wages, represent 16.76% and 14.22% of the plan respectively. Public works comprises 15.78% of city expenses while general government will take up 13.08% of the budget.

More can and should be done to consolidate or share services — although we welcome the significant shifts in cooperation from purchasing to public safety that have occurred between the city, the county and other communities in the region.

According to the budget documents, total revenues in the proposed budget — for both inside and outside districts — are to be derived from a property tax levy of $15,358,405; $1,192,003 to be appropriated from the fund balance and $28,364,022 from other revenue sources, including state aid and sales tax revenue.

The mayor reports that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a 30% decline in sales tax revenue for many months, but sales tax revenues are now showing signs of bouncing back. This recovery is essential for the survival of our local business community as is the support of area residents. There is no substitute for a community to self-support itself, primarily by buying locally when — and while — the option exists.

Wise spending, like good government, depends on transparency and participation — and there is no substitute for an informed public getting involved with the process.

Among the easiest ways to get involved is to share your views during an upcoming public hearing to be held at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

You can also follow the news articles on the city budget, particularly as the Common Council begins its budget deliberations with city department heads and share your views privately with your municipal representatives. You can find your councilor’s contact information — as well as the mayor and other city officials — on the city’s website www.romenewyork.com, where it just so happens, you can also find every line of the $44.9 million budget proposal.

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