JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown City Council will likely use recently discovered savings in the 2020 City Budget to reduce local property taxes rather than boost funding in other areas of the spending plan, including providing more aid for the James Prendergast Library.
On Monday night the city council held its public hearing on the $36.6 million budget with only person speaking out. City Resident Doug Champ offered two ideas on how the city could save money in the future – shifting storm water maintenance to the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities and privatizing leaf pickup. In addition, he also urged the council to help the library by restoring additional city aid for next year while also appealing to the three members of the city council who work in public education, saying that the library is a valuable educational resource for the entire community.
“Our library is a catalyst of ideas. People who can’t afford – and I stream everything. I pay $70 a month for my internet service – they can’t afford that. There are people that can’t afford to buy a book. So I ask you to augment the mayor’s budget, which has $60,000 for the library. I would like to see you as a city council add $40,000 to that for a $100,000 total,” Champ said.
Following the public hearing, the city council continued its budget deliberations by meeting with officials from the Prendergast Library and the Fenton History Center. Prendergast Director Tina Scott reiterated the news from earlier this year, saying the library is expecting to lose $110,000 in state aid next year because it the city has dramatically cut its local share of taxpayer supported library aid.
“Unfortunately, what we had warned the city about for many years now has come to pass,” Scott said. “Because or [local] tax support has been cut by more than 5% over two years, it triggers the ‘maintenance of effort’ clause in library law, which cuts our state funding. [The state] cut 25% already this year and next year we stand to lose all of it.”
Scott also pointed out that 98% of the public libraries in the United States receive more community support as a percentage of their budge than the Prendergast receives from Jamestown.
This year the city dedicated $50,000 in funding for the library, a decrease of $300,000 from just two years earlier. Next year the mayor’s budget calls for giving the library $60,000, but the library says that is no where near enough to ensure the state aid for the library can also continue. As a result, Scott said the library is looking at a $126,000 deficit in next year’s budget.
Unlike other recent budget years, this year the city council does have some adjustments it can make beyond what was proposed by Mayor Sam Teresi and that includes the option of boosting library aid.
It was announced earlier this month that next year’s city budget could have as much as $357,000 in savings to its health insurance costs. During that announcement both the mayor and city comptroller Joe Bellitto recommended the council be conservator and only project about $150,000 in savings, meaning that could be applied to other areas of next year’s budget. But despite the financial challenges facing the library and other departments in city government, Teresi recommended using the savings toward a tax cut.
Following last night’s meeting with the library officials the city council held its regular work session and during that meeting, city councilman and finance committee chairman Tony Dolce (R-Ward 2) said he was in agreement that the money should be used to cut the tax rate.
“If we just took that conservative amount of $150,000 and budgeted toward next year’s budget, that would give us a tax decrease of $0.22 per thousand. That would get us down below the constitutional taxing limit, just below 99%. So it would be a slight, decent tax decrease,” Dolce said.
According to Mayor Teresi’s budget presentation in October, the current tax rate for city tax payers is $23.85 per thousand assessed value. If all the $150,000 in savings is applied toward reducing the tax levy next year, the new tax rate would be $23.63 per thousand. That’s an annual savings of $22 for property valued at $100,000.
Joining Dolce in voicing support for the property tax cut were council members Maria Jones (D-Ward 5) and Tom Nelson (D-Ward 6). However councilman Andy Liuzzo (R-At Large) said he would instead prefer to see the money go to support the library and help it for one more year. However, it didn’t appear enough of his fellow council members supported that idea, although he does have the option to bring it forward again as a formal amendment before the council holds its budget vote next week during its monthly voting session at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 25.
Meanwhile, the library could still see its financial challenges addressed in the future if it can convince enough residents to support a public vote on creating an annual library property tax levy. During next May’s school budget vote, a proposition will appear on the ballot calling for the establishment of a $350,000 levy for the library. If approved, that levy would remain in place in perpetuity or until residents voted again to change it.