Opinion: Ogdensburg man expresses concerns about city budget
To the Editor:
The following is just to inform, because Ogdensburg’s Preliminary Budget will most likely be approved as is, with four, inflexible yes votes in the bag.Let’s start with this: In 2019, the mayor promised a 25% tax cut without cutting public safety. Here’s the numbers after their first two budgets (2021 & 2022): A 20% tax cut, and a $1,408,701 cut to public safety.
The 20% property tax cut results in an annual revenue loss of $1,099,650. So cutting public safety paid for the tax cut, plus some. But, the mayor will save over $4,100 a year in taxes (five properties), whereas the average homeowner ($75,000 assessment) will save about $300 a year.
The Preliminary Budget projects a decrease in revenue, since 2020, of $2,758,221. That has to be a record loss, for such a small municipality, in just two years. The last time revenue decreased was in 2012, by $14,781.
Let’s look at their spending priorities, in the four main categories, by comparing the budgeted numbers for 2020 (before the four took office), to what’s budgeted for 2022:
• General Government Support Services - an increase of $724,381
• Public Safety - a decrease of $1,408,701
• Public Works - a decrease of $52,785
• Recreation - an increase of $11,378 (Beach budget for 2022 is $73,066)
The takeaway? More monetary support for General Government, less actual services, especially Public Safety, for citizens. Or, put differently, more money for City Hall (city manager gets a $12,000 raise) and legal fees ($537,498 for 2020-2022), and a lot less money for keeping city residents safe. (Note: for comparison, legal fees were $268,069 for 2017-2019)
The city manager boasts, “This reduction in the property tax rate will reduce city taxes to the lowest level since 2010.”
But this is what we’ll get for our tax dollars, compared to 2010: 14 fewer Police Department employees, 11 fewer firefighters, 11 fewer DPW workers, and an abolished Recreation Department (a total of 42 fewer City employees).
In 2010, we had fully staffed, effective City services. In 2022, after two years of deep cuts by this crew, remaining services will be severely understaffed and much less effective. So the return on property taxes paid will be considerably diminished, with public safety compromised.
And since the comparison was made to 2010s rate, what came next back then? Tax rate increases in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
So will tax cuts hold this time, when revenue is essential? Or will assessments be raised to increase revenue? There’s $275,000 budgeted for a citywide assessment in 2022. But a higher assessment increases County and School taxes too, unlike a City rate increase.
The Preliminary Budget projects a sales tax revenue loss next year of $764,681, even though the city manager has repeatedly stated it could be $2 million. Either way, the considerable loss is a direct result of this crew’s failed negotiations with the County.
The city manager has asked citizens to find $140,000 to hire a firefighter. Ridiculous, after they’ve lost over $2.7 million in revenue, and highly misleading, because the starting salary for a firefighter, in 2022, is $36,569. With benefits, the total cost is under $90,000 to start, which includes Family health insurance coverage. If they opt-out of City health insurance, the total cost is around $60,000.
But we now know why we weren’t awarded a SAFER Grant (to cover the cost of additional firefighters).
The declination letter stated, “your application narrative was deficient in the level of details needed to receive a competitive rating.”
An application written and submitted by the city manager, a self-proclaimed “emergency services expert”; which doesn’t reflect well on his abilities, and shows a disturbing lack of concern for public safety.
City residents can decide if they like the new budget priorities and lost revenue. But if not, it doesn’t matter to this crew. They shut out the voices of concerned citizens, no matter the message sent.