JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown City Council has approved a $35.1 million budget for 2016 that includes a 4 percent tax increase.
On Monday night the council voted on the budget, but not until after several budget cuts were introduced by councilman Brent Sheldon (R-Ward 1), and subsequently defeated. Sheldon brought forward $200,000 in cuts for various part-time and seasonal positions in several departments, including the Clerk’s office, Parks Department, Department of Public Works, Police Department, and the Accessor’s office. They were the same cuts that were discussed in depth during the council’s Nov. 23 work session.
At that time the council came to a consensus that while the cuts look like they would save the city money on paper, they could actually end up driving up costs through overtime.
Despite the council agreeing last week that the cuts wouldn’t work, Sheldon still brought them forward to be officially voted on during the meeting.
“There was a lot of hard work done on this budget but I think more could have been done and I think more cuts could have been made,” Sheldon said following the vote. “I proposed cuts that would not effect full time employees – none of them would have been laid off. And we have to do more with less. We see that on all levels of government. I work in the county government and we see that all the time. We’re told we have to do more with less because they’re cutting our budgets, they’re cutting our positions, and the city needs to do that too.”
In all, Sheldon proposed nine amendments with each being easily defeated by an 8 to 1 or 7 to 2 vote – with outgoing councilman Alphonso Pagan (R-Ward 3) voting yes on two of the nine cuts. The proposed nine budget cuts included:
- $7,500 – Part Time Accountant – Clerk’s Office
- $21,000 – Property Appraiser
- $36,109 – City Hall Mechanic
- $4,000 – Summer Help – DPW Central Garage
- $9,000 – 2 PT JPD administrative positions
- $26,000 – DPW Summer help
- $72,000 – Parks Dept – Summer Labor
- $10,000 – Parks Dept – Summer Youth Program
- $7,000 – Parks Dept – Summer Labor at Diethrick Park
Among those who voted against each proposed cut was senior city councilman and finance committee chairman Tony Dolce (R-Ward 2), who said it wouldn’t make sense to cut positions.
“I’ve been probably the biggest fighter for no-tax-increase budgets and pushing for cut after cut,” Dolce said. We went through this with a fine tooth comb. Yes, you could say you might be able to cut a few thousand here or a few thousand there, but you have to start looking at where you get your bang for your buck. Those summer employees do a lot of work that would not otherwise get done, or it would require having to actually pay more because you’ll have full time contractual employees doing work that minimum wage part time workers can do.”
The final vote on the budget was 8 to 1, with Sheldon providing the lone “no” vote.
The council’s final budget provides only two changes from the spending plan initially presented by Mayor Sam Teresi. One change was restoring $2500 to a $5000 cut to the Senior Center program. The other change involved using a total of $482,000 in dividend payments from the Board of Public Utilities – nearly twice as much as what was initially proposed by the mayor.
PUBLIC HEARING ON TAX CAP OVERRIDE
Earlier on Monday, Teresi held a public hearing on a local law to override the state mandated tax cap, which is .7 percent for 2016. With the final tax rate increase coming in at 4 percent, it is well above the tax cap limit. On Nov. 15, the city council approved the override by a vote of 7 to 2, with Sheldon and Pagan voting against it.
The mayor is required to hold a public hearing prior to signing the local law, and two individuals attended and spoke during the hearing Monday morning – Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Todd Tranum and Jamestown resident Doug Champ. After both expressed their concerns with the tax hike, the mayor spent nearly an hour talking with both men in an effort to explain the fiscal challenges the city faces, as well as to assure them the city is doing all it can to address the challenges.
With the final budget in place, city property owners will see their property taxes go up by 4 percent, or .92 per thousand of assessed value. That equals a new tax rate of $23.59 per thousand. For a $50,000 home in the city, that equals a tax hike of about $46 over the current year.