The New York state Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments issued its review of the city of Plattsburgh’s finances on Thursday. It offers several recommendations to reverse the city’s fiscal downturn.
In January 2016, then-Mayor James Calnon formally requested the state board conduct a comprehensive review of the city’s financial condition and make recommendations for improvement.
The report found two key fiscal issues in Plattsburgh. In 2016, the city attempted to change the retiree health care insurance, but a legal challenge is still pending. The city has also not resolved a contract with the union representing firefighters. Any potential retroactive awards could further stress the city budget.
First-term Mayor Colin Read says the report reinforces the budget concerns he expressed during his campaign and since he took office. An economist by trade, he has implemented a five-year budget planning process to address the city’s fiscal challenges. “I’m afraid that now is the time to make some very hard choices. In January I started in earnest creating the spreadsheets and doing the analysis and showing the degree to the problem and started recommending solutions. The department heads have worked very hard in trying to trim expenses but they’ve only managed to really trim expenses by about one percent, not nearly the 10 percentage point kinds of scale that we need to really balance the books here. But I’ve had to start producing recommendations that are becoming increasingly drastic. These involve a lot of consolidation of services but they are going to necessarily have to go well beyond that at this point.”
The state board emphasizes implementing shared services with the town and county. Read notes that has been an on-going discussion. “I’m hopeful that the council will agree to allow us to share some assessment services with the county. We calculate the saving for that to be somewhere close, upwards of $100,000 per year. Other opportunities I think are very promising are our information technology. You know you see in the report the types of departments that the city has and the county has almost completely overlap. So I really think we’re ripe for many, many discussions even if we can’t do them in the near term.”
The Financial Restructuring Board offers grants if a city follows through with its recommendations. Ward 5 Councilor Becky Kasper was the council pro tem and budget officer during the previous administration. She is excited to work with the board and says most of what was recommended is already being considered. “We need to look at every single one of these recommendations and say what can we afford to do? What has to be done? What do we need to get this million dollars from the state? And we’ve had some difficult times. We are NOT in extreme crisis. We have so many opportunities right now that other municipalities do not have between a $10 million DRI grant which will generate other grant funding and this promise or enticement by the FRB of a million dollars. We have a lot of opportunities. So I’m actually pleased with the FRB report.”
The report also recommends relocating the city Department of Public Works operation site from the town to the city and that the city start charging for public parking.