BY JIMMY LAWTON North Country This Week OGDENSBURG — As City Council looks to close a $3.5 million budget gap, Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly says the answers have already been presented in the …
BY JIMMY LAWTON
North Country This Week
OGDENSBURG — As City Council looks to close a $3.5 million budget gap, Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly says the answers have already been presented in the preliminary budget.
On the chopping block in the preliminary budget are 10 jobs including six from the police department, two from the Department of Public Works and two from city hall.
Skelly says he believes the cuts will need to be made in the end, though he says he’d like to see the DPW lose only one position.
Skelly expects that when the budget is finished, brush pick-up will be removed and the pool will be closed.
However, city councilors have expressed interest in finding a way to keep both, as well and reduce the number of cuts, particularly in the police department.
Public hearings on the budget are planned for Dec. 12.
As it stands the city is looking to raise sewer rates by 25 percent, water rates by 4 percent and property taxes by 12 percent.
On top of that, a citywide reassessment is underway.
Over the past few weeks council has gone over the budget looking to find savings and additional revenues, but other than bonding for projects and shifting expenditures from the general fund to water and sewer, little progress has been made and no formal changes have updated the preliminary budget.
Skelly says the recent meetings have been frustrating for him.
“I see everything being done to avoid making the real difficult decisions,” he said. “I think staff has done an excellent job preparing the budget and we need to use the numbers they’ve presented us,” he said.
Skelly said that the work sessions have failed to accomplish anything beyond ideas for kicking the can down the road.
“I see councilors trying to create a financial number out of thin air because it serves their motive, but they are not working on a real budget,” he said. “The work sessions have been a waste of time so far.”
Skelly said the workshops haven’t addressed one of the biggest issues facing the city, which he says is an unsustainable contract with the fire union.
A recent presentation from the fire chief showed the city would see a savings of near $400,000 if the city were to hire to more firefighters due to the extra expenses in overtime the city is paying firefighters.
But Skelly said the real problem is the contract is written in a way that forces the city to have more firefighters than it can afford.
It’s an issue that’s been in arbitration for sometime and has been at the center of a legal dispute between the city and the fire department.
Skelly says adding additional firefighters won’t save money for the city in the long term and that Ogdensburg needs to implement a volunteer-professional firefighter hybrid similar to what has been done in Massena.
“We need to get rid of the five-man minimum staffing. That would save us $450,000,” he said. “That will bring down overtime costs.”
Skelly said it’s also time to reach out to the New York State Financial restructuring board again, which is an idea shared by councilor John Rishe.
Both noted that a lot has changed since the last outreach.
Skelly says the city did go into the budget process with a substantial fund balance and that the city can probably offset cuts and costs by dipping into it, but he says that’s a fools game in the long run.
“I think we can take the money this year, but going forward it’s going to take more and more to keep doing this and that will happen until it’s gone. That’s not what a fund balance is for,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be a piggy bank to sustain services that are unaffordable.”