The vote came after councilman and finance committee chair Tony Dolce announced that state officials have given the city reasonable assurance that Albany would be able to provide $946,679 in additional aid to bring the budget into balance.
Other than adding the additional state aid to the budget, no other amendments to Mayor Sam Teresi’s initial budget proposal were presented.
The budget includes a proposed tax levy increase of $167,712, or 1.1 percent. That increase brings the city to its constitutional tax limit of $16,012,000 – meaning the city couldn’t raise taxes any higher, even if it wanted to. The tax rate for property owners in Jamestown will go up by 21 cents per thousand, which is equal to a 0.9 percent hike from the current year. However, because the increase is below the state-imposed 2 percent tax cap, property owners will be able to get a rebate at the end of 2018 from the state.
The inclusion of the additional state aid at the eleventh hour didn’t come as a surprise to city officials, who have said since the start of the budget process that there really was no other way for the city to balance its books for next year. That’s because in addition to reaching its constitutional taxing limit, the city is also operating on a bare-bones budget that includes minimum staffing in police, fire, and public work – the three divisions that comprise the bulk of city spending when factoring in wages, benefits, and costs related to retirees who are no longer part of the city workforce.
Following Monday’s voting session Jamestown Mayor Teresi cautioned that although the state has given reasonable assurance for the additional aid, it doesn’t mean that’s a guarantee.
“I want to make it abundantly clear, they have not come out and indicated that this money is there,” Teresi said. “But after reviewing our budget again on a line-by-line basis, and working with us throughout the course of the year, they reviewed the budget and came back to us today through the division of budget, indicating, ‘We think that you can increase that line item for unrestricted, per-capita state aid by another $946,000.'”
The mayor added that the state is willing to help out Jamestown because it is faced with unique circumstances not found in other cities, including binding contracts with workers and state aid that is lower than what other cities of a comparable size receive, due to the city-owned electric plant being factored into the aid formula.
“They recognize these unique and extraordinary circumstances. They’ve also continued to let us know that the city of Jamestown has done more on the front from a restructuring, downsizing, collaboration, sharing of services, regionalization of services than virtually any place in the state and in their words that they shared with us, we’ve done more with less than virtually any other city in the state,” Teresi said.
While the city was able to finally balance the spending plan, both the the mayor and the city council have been criticized for failing to present a balanced budget at the start of the process, which is required under the language in the city charter. But Dolce said it there really was no other cuts that could be made, and it would be irresponsible to include the additional state aid before hearing back from state officials.
“I think we have to look more at increasing revenue. I think the process of going through the budget line-by-line, it wasn’t what else could we cut, it was what could we bring back. We have equipment needs, we have building needs, we have agency needs,” Dolce said. “People came to the council meetings – departments and agencies – looking for more money, not helping us with areas that we could downsize even further.”
The final budget also removes $50,000 in funding for the James Prendergast Library, cutting the city’s contribution in half from what it provided this year. That’s despite a push by library officials and supporters earlier this month requesting that the funding be restored so the library can continue to provide services at its current level.
Dolce said that he did try to restore the money, but couldn’t find any support from his colleagues or the administration because the money simply wasn’t there.
City councilman Brent Sheldon was the only members to vote against the budget, saying that because the state is facing an estimated $4 billion deficit next year, it wouldn’t be responsible for the city to expect additional aid from Albany. Councilman George Spitale was absent.