JAMESTOWN – Just one person spoke during the Jamestown City Council’s budget hearing for the 2019 city budget.
The $36 million spending plan contains no tax increase because the city is already at the highest taxing level allowed under state law. But because the expenses in next year’s budget still outpace revenue, the budget calls on the state of New York to provide an additional $1 million in bailout money, marking the third year in a row the state will have to provide additional aid to help Jamestown balance its books.
City resident Doug Champ spoke during last night’s hearing, voicing his concern that the city’s finances are on an unsustainable path with unbalanced budgets becoming the norm.
“I look at the budget that’s being presented and again we’re in a situation where it’s an unbalanced budget,” Champ said. “You can indicate to the people that it’s a balanced budget but it’s all anticipatory on state funding again.”
Champ also raised concerns about the budget process itself, saying its difficult for residents to weigh in on the proposed city budget when there are still several unknowns.
“We have this compressed time. For instance, tonight you’re holding a public hearing before you’ve actually had further discussions on some of the departments that are going to present and actually have an impact on the budget. It seems like that process should be done before this. The public hearing should be the last thing, in some respects, before you vote,” Champ said.
Champ also questioned the state of the city’s fund balance for this year as well as what it will be in next year’s budget, considering a recent arbitration ruling that stated the city will have to make a retroactive 2 percent salary increase to its police union covering the years 2016 and 2017. Neither Mayor Sam Teresi or the city council has commented on what the exact impact would be, but WRFA estimates it would easily exceed $400,000.
Following the budget hearing the city council held a budget meeting to review the budget numbers for the city’s department of development, as well as for the Prendergast Library and Fenton History Center.
Development Director Vince DeJoy offered a thorough review of city development efforts in 2018, while also going over some of the numbers for next year’s spending plan. The total spending in the department of development is $969,200 with nearly half that amount covered by the city general operating fund. Another $360,000 is covered by the federal Community Development Block Grant funding, while $140,000 comes from the Jamestown Local Development Corporation.
Officials with the Prendergast Library were also on hand to go over the budget and explain why aid from the city is so important. Library executive director Tina Scott said that off all the libraries in the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library system, the Prendergast is by far the largest and receives the most traffic, yet it is also receives the least amount of support from its host municipality.
Due to budget challenges faced by the city in recent years, funding for the Prendergast has been cut dramatically in recent years and is now at just $50,000 for next year. Scott said that the library would like to have that amount doubled if possible but city officials have said it would be difficult to find additional funding for next year due to various budget challenges.
The city council has until Dec. 1 to amend and approve a spending plan. It is expected to make any changes to the spending plan during next Monday’s work session at 7 p.m., with a budget vote planned during that night’s voting session, scheduled for 7:30 p.m.