Plattsburgh City Councilors held a special session Tuesday evening to consider amendments to the proposed city budget as they try to complete the fiscal plan by Saturday’s deadline.
The six members of the Plattsburgh Common Council are whittling down the proposed 2017 budget to bring it closer to the state tax cap. At the beginning of the evening, Mayor Colin Read explained that the meeting would be dedicated to reviewing a series of amendments to the budget proposal. “We're going to be working from a couple of spreadsheets here that define individual items that department heads and councilors have identified. At this point the total adjusted property tax levy increase for 2017 stands at 9.22 percent based on the cuts so far. And so the Council will now consider a number of amendments to see if we can trim still farther.”
City councilors then delved into cuts offered on the spreadsheets. The first clarified an item from a past meeting presented by Ward 5 Democrat Becky Kasper to eliminate a new traffic violations position. “I just want to make sure that this amendment says that we do not create a new position wholly dedicated to that.”
Ward 3 Republican Dale Dowdle: “So is the thought not to hire, to fill the 3 vacant positions of officers?”
Kasper: “That amendment was withdrawn. So that's not an issue on the table those three vacant positions. This is solely a matter of a new, creation of a new position.”
Ward 1 Democrat Rachelle Armstrong: “So this would not provide for the addition of a…”
Kasper: “Civilian traffic.”
Armstrong: “Civilian traffic person.”
Kasper: “So a yes vote on this amendment kills that position. It removes it from the payroll basically.”
The position was removed from the payroll and the panel moved on to the next and most contentious item. Considerable deliberation was spent on whether the city should continue to contract its cleaning services or hire an employee. Kasper noted the debate has been ongoing. “We have for 3 years talked about contracted services and how we feel sometimes so chained to them. I'm going to trust department heads here and other folks who are saying this would be financially responsible. And it would not, it would, it would cut the chains of having to go out to bid where there's just not a lot of competition. And so without that competition out there we're always going to be at the whim of those services that the prices just ever more increases, where there's more stability with a full time position.”
But Ward 2 Democrat Mike Kelly expressed doubts. “I don't think the savings that we're talking about are going to materialize. There may be some savings. But benefits and pensions, overtime possibly for this person's vacation days and whatnot. By the time you factor all that in there won’t be much money left. But that's OK. It’s worth a try. And I think if the service improves as a result well that's a good thing.”
That item passed. Remaining budget amendments included reducing the budgets of various departments and adjusting fees. The work accomplished brought the tax levy to 8.30 percent.
But key departments have yet to offer budget adjustments. The city’s tax cap is 1.4450 percent.
Mayor Read took office on January 1st and has no power to change or veto the package. “No department head wants to make these kinds of cuts. But I'm really impressed by the spirit that they brought forward and their willingness to give it a try. The mayor's budget once the Chamberlain said that to simply balance a budget would actually require about a 28 percent tax increase. So to get from that 28 percent down to about 5 percent in the end, I think he called it miracle work.”
The council will meet in regular session Thursday and have also scheduled a special budget session Friday at 5 p.m. to adopt the final budget. Plattsburgh city officials must have a budget in place by Saturday.