Ogdensburg police chief makes pitch to city council to keep officers, dispatcher jobs
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
OGDENSBURG – Ogdensburg Police Chief Mark Kearns said the city’s plan to cut four officers and two dispatchers from the city police department would actually only save about $130,517.
In a presentation to council during a budget workshop Wednesday, Kearns showed that cutting the positions would save $444,345, but said that overtime would increase by $312,828 on top of the already high overtime expenses.Kearns said the city will have a net gain of $130,517 in the end but will eliminate critical services.
In 2022 the city eliminated the police investigative units and Kearns said that criminals have taken notice.
He said informants have told officers that there is so much fentanyl on the street “they are laughing at us.”
City Councilor Michael Powers said he’s noticed the difference on city streets as well.
He said the drugs are moving and the homeless problem is growing.
“It’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.
Council did not commit to keeping any of the positions, though councilor Dan Skamperle said he wanted to see all of the positions stay at minimum.
Councilor John Rishe said the city is facing two major problems. The first is the change in the sales tax collection, which cost the city about $2.5 million. The other, according to Rishe, are the union contracts.
Rishe said that it might be possible to retain jobs if the unions are willing to discuss reductions in benefits.
“Let's face it. There are a lot of expenses there and we could be doing a lot better in terms of manpower if those contracts were not in place,” he said.
Rishe said that by eliminating the hazard pay for firefighters the city could fund two police officer positions.
“I think a four-man shift with an all call,” he said, adding that it was a big expense. He also said he’d like to see all city employees paying 20 percent of their healthcare costs. He said currently some do and others don't.
Powers said negotiating might be possible, but said that he believes the unions, particularly the fire union, have a difficulty trusting the council due to recent actions.
The city and fire department have been at odds for over a year with lawsuits and organized rallies ensuing at city hall.
The city council also adjusted revenues up in several categories and considered bonding for a more than $700,000 rather than paying up front for two projects, though no formal action was taken. Their efforts reduced the budget gap by more than $1 million, however Smith cautioned council from over estimating revenues several times during the meeting.
The idea to bond was met with sharp resistance from Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly who questioned why the city would bond after working hard to aggressively pay down debt.
He was also critical of past bonding by the city in which he says $2 million was borrowed for a project that cost only $550,000. He said he feared the city was playing a shell game.
The mayor also raised concerns about the council's decision to take more than $300,000 from the water and sewer funds to pay for personnel across several departments.
Skelly noted that the city had worked hard to stop misspending funds from water and sewer to pay for work outside of the facilities.
In 2017 the New York State comptroller told the city that it needed to make sure money from those funds were spent solely on work associated with water and sewer.
Smith told council that the originally budgeted $750,000 covered those costs, however council gave consensus to raise that to more than $1 million.
The city also raised sales tax estimates by $200,000, though Deputy Mayor Stephen Fisher admitted that it was a shot in the dark as there are many unknowns related to sales tax collection, namely if everyone who is supposed to be paying is in fact doing so.
Rishe also suggested passing a resolution that would allow organizations, businesses and individuals to make monetary gifts to the city. He said he believed the gifts would provide a tax credit and would be tax deductible. His plan was based on recent legislation passed by the state.
Rishe suggested adding $300,000 in expected donations as revenue, but other councilors who supported establishing the fund, opposed budgeting it as revenue at this time.
City Manager Andrea Smith said the proposed changes to revenue lines will be presented at the next budget meeting on Nov. 22, when the city will address the fire budget.