JAMESTOWN – The city of Jamestown is in a financially precarious position but there are also things that can be done to help not only keep the city afloat but also move it into calmer waters. That was the message from new Jamestown mayor Eddie Sundquist during his first State of the City report to the Jamestown City Council during its meeting Monday night at city hall.
Speaking for an estimated 50 people in attendance, Sundquist first acknowledged that the city is in a difficult financial situation, due to a number of different factors.
“It’s no secret that our city is fiscally distressed. We are the only city in the state of New York that’s been at its property tax cap. We’re one of the few cities where almost 40 percent of our assessed value is tax exempt. We’re facing several lawsuits that could decimate our city’s contingency, or “rainy day”, fund. Coupled with a disconnected workforce and poor employee job satisfaction, we are at a low point in this city’s history,” Sundquist noted.
But despite the bleak report regarding the city’s finances, Sundquist also said that the city isn’t doomed.
“I am not saying that we’re going into municipal bankruptcy or a control board, but I am saying that if we don’t plan for future development, if we don’t look at other revenue models, if we just sit back and keep this ship of a city afloat, we are one storm away from sinking,” Sundquist said.
Following his assessment of the city finances, Sundquist then rolled out an update on several issues currently facing the city, including the current labor agreement with public safety, the effort to address the need for reliable ambulance service in the community, and also where things stand with both economic development and housing and neighborhood blight.
Sundquist also offered details of several new items he would like to pursue in 2020 and beyond, including an improvement in inter-department communication at city hall – whether it be between the police and fire departments or between the city assessor and clerk’s office. He also talked about the need for adjusting the city’s tax structure by rewarding those who invest in their homes and properties while also identifying ways to further discourage housing blight and property abandonment.
Other items of focus for the new year included establishing a city charter review commission as well as a review of the city code and zoning laws.
Sundquist added that there is much work to be done be he believes his administration – in working with the city council and other partners in the community – can turn Jamestown around.
“Despite my warning of our future if we stay the current path, what I see most in this city is hope; hope that together, as one community, we can solve problems and rise above challenges,” Sundquist said. “We have much work to do this year: improving communications, addressing public safety concerns, redeveloping our city, modernizing our tax structure. But I am confident that hope and action will move Jamestown forward.”
During his report, Sundquist said the city was at a low point in its history and his new administration would provide a reemergence of hope. WRFA asked him following Monday’s meeting if those comments were reflective of his thoughts of previous mayor Sam Teresi, who served for 20 years before choosing not to run for reelection last year. Sundquist said by no means was he taking a swipe at Teresi or his past work.
“The comments were less about the prior administration and more just about the state of the city that we are in. We have to recognize that we are just a heartbeat away from a potential municipal bankruptcy if we don’t start to look to the future and new revenue options for the city,” Sundquist said, adding, “Mayor Teresi was put in a tight, difficult situation. He got hit with a recession. He got hit with a whole bunch of lawsuit and things like that, so I was simply talking about where we are at as a city.”
Following the meeting, ranking city council member and new city council president Tony Dolce offered his thoughts on the address.
“It was quite a lengthy list, a very daunting list of things he would like to see accomplished. Obviously it’s a complete 180 degree change from the past administration,” Dolce said. “There were some things in there that I don’t know how achievable they are but we can take a look at. As far as charter changes, there’s been some extensive work that’s been done over the years. So again, we’ll have to look at some of the specific things that he wants. I know that zoning is certainly an area that we can work on.”
Dolce also added that he and other council members are well aware of the city’s financial challenges and have been working to address them over the past several years.
“I don’t think that it’s any secret that we’ve been in fiscal stress over the years. We finally, last year, got under the constitutional tax limit slightly. We’ve been working very hard so I want to make sure he understands its been difficult the last two decades. We’ve made some difficult decisions and difficult cuts,” Dolce added.