Ogdensburg City Council eyes final changes as budget vote looms
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said the council would meet Nov. 29, in fact the meeting is Dec. 6.
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
OGDENSBURG -- With the city set to make final changes to the budget Monday, Dec. 6, City Manager Stephen Jellie touted the need to continue to reduce city taxes and create a wider margin between the city’s tax rate and the constitutional limit.
In a press release issued Wednesday, Nov. 24, he built on comments made at a recent city council meeting regarding the city’s constitutional tax limit.“For the fourth consecutive year, and hopefully the last, the Office of the New York State Comptroller notified the City of Ogdensburg that its Constitution Tax Limit (CTL) is in the “high risk zone,” Jellie said. “The letter from the Office of the NYS Comptroller is attached. The city’s current 2021 budget exhausts 80.6% of the allowable amount the law provides to be levied for property tax purposes, which includes a significant amount of debt the city is allowed to use as “exclusions” from the calculation – without those exclusions the city is exhausting 91% of the allowable limit.”
Jellie added that operating within the NYS Constitutional Tax Limit is mandatory.
“There is no option to do otherwise and it would be irresponsible for the city to continue this risky practice,” he said.
Jellie says there are only two significantly effective methods of reducing the tax limit which includes lowering the property tax rate or for the city to experience significant annual increases in property assessable value.
“Property value rates were flat in Ogdensburg for many years, and there was reason to believe that those values would decrease which would immediately compound the problem and throw the city over its limit,” he said.
Jellie said in recent months the city has seen an uptick in property sales and prices, which is a good sign but those new values will not be realized for property tax computation for at least another two years.
“Reducing the property tax rate significantly is the only viable solution and it must continue to occur immediately,” he said.
Jellie says recommendations by some well-intentioned members of the community that the city should forestall or slow the rate of reducing property tax rates simply will not work and the time has long past for more modest reductions.
That sentiment was raised by Ogdensburg resident Michael Tooley at a recent budget hearing; it was echoed and supported by resident Penny Sharrow.
Tooley centered his argument on the fact that the county’s sales tax estimates were not built on firm data and that the city’s public safety units needed support.
Jellie says he understands that reducing the size, strength and structure of local government has immediate impacts to the organization and its personnel.
“The decisions to take such drastic actions are difficult but they are absolutely necessary if the city is going to continue on the path of revival and redevelopment. Spending outside the reasonable means of the taxpayers, regardless of the demand, cannot continue and the Skelly Administration intends to reduce the tax rate an additional 10% in 2022 Annual Budget after reducing it 10% in 2021.”
If approved, the city’s tax rate would be $15.89, the lowest rate in a decade.
Jellie said it would also reduce the city’s Constitutional Tax Limit to 70%, which would remove the high risk zone designation.
“Local Government at the County, City, Town and Villages levels must commit to meaningful consolidation, elimination of redundancy and reduction of property taxes if significant improvement in economic conditions and growth of north country communities is the goal.”