The Jamestown City Council Monday night hosted a public hearing on the 2018 City Budget, with only three individuals on hand to share their thoughts on the $35.7 million spending plan that includes a $947,000 deficit.
One of those who spoke was Jamestown resident and retired Board of Public Utilities employee Doug Champ, who again criticized the council for failing to follow the rules laid out in the city charter involving to budget process.
Among other things, the charter states that the mayor is required to deliver a balanced budget proposal to the council on or before Oct. 10 and that the city council is required to provide amendments to the budget by Nov. 10, before the public hearing is held.
However, Champ pointed out that neither requirement was followed this year. He said that makes it difficult for the public to address any aspect of the budget during the legally required public hearing.
“Why are we having this public hearing? Because you have to hold a public hearing? It’s not on anything else but an unbalanced budget,” Champ said. “The city council could have kicked this budget back to the mayor and the mayor – rightfully or wrongfully so – could’ve said ‘I’m not going to attach a budget to you because I can’t make it balanced.’ Well then your charter should change the wording from ‘will [present a balanced budget]’ to ‘could [present a balanced budget]’ and as for your proposed amendments, it should be indicated that amendments may be able to be performed at a later date.”
Following the hearing, finance committee chairman Tony Dolce addressed Champ’s concerns, saying that although the charter calls for amendments to be presented by Nov. 10, there’s nothing that says they also can’t be made afterward.
“In regards to the charter, there’s nothing that we’re doing illegal about it. As you know on any particular resolution – the budget is a resolution that we will be voting – any amendment could be made on the floor for any given resolution at the last minute,” Dolce said.
Dolce also said that it’s better to start with an unbalanced budget than one that is unrealistic.
“Obviously in a perfect scenario the mayor’s budget would be balanced as it has been in several years past,” Dolce explained. “The last few years have been challenging and it makes no sense to put together an unrealistic budget that is untrue and filled with all sorts of inflated revenues or draconian cuts just to say he came out with a balanced budget. That being said, we still have to have a balanced budget and we’re working on that.”
In addition to Champ’s comments, others who spoke to the city council were Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Tranum, who expressed his concerns about not seeing an adequate long-term plan that would help the city address its ongoing financial challenges. He also urged the mayor to work toward having local business leaders seated on the BPU, to ensure the interests of the manufacturing community are being represented.
The only other individual who spoke was incoming city council member Andrew Liuzzo, who requested the council considering restoring money for the James Prendergast Library, adding that it should also urge the library to be operated more like a business so that it is more self-sustaining and less reliant on public money in future years. Liuzzo asked the council restore $25,000 of the $50,000 that was cut in the mayor’s budget proposal.
The council has until Dec. 1 to approve a budget. It will likely vote on a final spending plan during its November voting session, scheduled for next Monday, Nov. 27 at 7:30 p.m.