JAMESTOWN – While the Jamestown City Council is still in the process of reviewing the 2021 City Budget, a public hearing on the proposed spending plan has been scheduled and will take place on Monday, Nov. 16 at 6 p.m.
The legal notice on the public hearing was posted Tuesday in the Jamestown Post-Journal. The city charter requires the notice to be published at least seven days prior to the hearing date.
Due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the public is not allowed to attend the hearing in person. Instead, any comments on the budget must be provided in writing ahead of time. Comments can be sent to the city clerk at Clerk@Jamestownny.gov and must be submitted by 5 p.m. Sunday.
Reduction in Overall Spending and Tax Rate
On Oct. 9, Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist presented a $34.86 million proposed 2021 spending plan, which is $1.66 million (4.5%) lower than the current year’s budget. The spending plan contains no layoffs and also proposes a 0.72% reduction in property taxes, resulting in a savings of 17 cents per thousand assessed value.
Adjustments to Retiree Healthcare Plan, Pension Payments Yield Large Savings
A key savings in next year’s budget comes from a proposal by the mayor for the city to unilaterally move eligible retired city employees off of the city healthcare program and over to a Medicare Supplement or Medicare Advantage healthcare plan. The city would pay for the full premium of the members who’ve switched to those plans. Sundquist said the proposal would save the retirees over a $1,000 each year, while also saving the city as much as $1.1 million in healthcare and prescription costs in 2021. But it remains to be seen if this change can be legally accomplished, as the current retirement health plan was negotiated with collective bargaining groups and the change may require each group’s consent before it can move forward.
“It’s a bit of a grey area,” Sunquist acknowledged during a recent interview with WRFA. “We’re working with our legal counsel to figure out what is involved with it. The difficult thing is that unions can not negotiate for retirees and we as a city can not go to retirees and say we want to bring you all together and renegotiate this. Our requirement is that we have to provide equivalent coverage.”
The proposed spending plan also calls for the amortizing of a portion of next year’s pension costs for all employees, freeing up $368,000 in the budget. That’s something that is being recommended by both the State Comptroller and the city Bond Counsel, due to a sharp increase in projected pension contributions for next year.
Parking Revenue Would Increase if Council Approves Recommended Adjustments to Fees, Fines
Perhaps the most controversial item in the proposed budget is a recommendation by the mayor to increase Downtown Parking rates and parking fines. Sundquist is calling for increases in parking violation rates, on-street rates at parking meters, and also increased rates at parking lots and garages. The mayor is also calling for the elimination of 150 free parking spaces in the core of the downtown.
The total increase in revenue is projected for the three categories is $519,000, $68,000 more than what had been budgeted in 2019 (the final full year before then novel coronavirus pandemic began). However, City Planner Ellen Shadle said during an October city council meeting that the city is losing as much as $117,400 each year by not charging in the free parking zone, under the current rate of 50 cents an hour. That number jumps to over $230,000 if the city were to increase hourly parking rates to $1. As a result, revenue from the parking adjustments could be significantly higher than the conservative estimates in Sundquist’s budget proposal.
But much of the downtown business community has expressed opposition to the proposal. Some members of the city council also appear reluctant to move forward on at least some of them. In response, Sundquist has proposed a compromise where all on-street downtown parking spaces would offer up to 20 minutes of free parking to motorists in exchange for bumping up rates and also eliminating the free parking zone, but it remains to be seen if the council would approve such a move.
New Positions, No More Library Funding
Other key items of the city budget is the additional of two new positions: a Communications/Grant Writer in the mayor’s office and a citizen’s affairs & Community Engagement Captain in the Jamestown Police Department.
The budget also sees the elimination in $100,000 in aid to the James Prendergast Library, due to the library having its own funding district that was approved by city voters during the June school budget vote.
Budget Deliberations Continue
Even with the public hearing on the budget is set to take place on Monday at 6 p.m., the city council itself has yet to wrap up its own budget hearings with various departments. Following the public hearing, the council will meet at 6:30 p.m. with the city’s Department of Development to review the budget from the Jamestown Urban Renewal Agency (JURA), which is a contract expense of $429,400 for next year – an increase of $14,400 over the current year’s original budget. The council will also review the spending for the Fenton Mansion (which is owned by the city and leased to the Fenton History Center) and also the Senior Center.
The departmental budget hearings are also closed from the public attending in person, but will be streamed live on the city website.
A complete copy of the budget is also available on the city website.