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November 27, 2012

Oneonta council to host budget hearing

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — ONEONTA — Cutting two vacant police officer positions to save $150,000 and charging recreational fees to non-city residents to generate $20,000 are among ideas to reduce the city’s projected deficit in 2013.

A public hearing on the proposed budget will be in Common Council Chambers in City Hall at 7 tonight, and council members will vote on the plan as presented or amended next Tuesday.

The proposed general fund budget is $14.87 million, up $84,772 or 0.57 percent from the $14.78 million budget for this year. The proposal carries a tax levy of $4.4 million, which is up 2 percent and within the state-mandated cap.

The hearing is required by the City Charter and is an opportunity for the public to comment, Mayor Dick Miller said Monday.

Miller, who developed the budget, said Michael Long has been involved in discussions since becoming city manager Oct. 1, and next year, Long will be responsible for developing and presenting a budget.

The proposed general fund budget has a deficit of $457,000, which was decreased from a preliminary projection of $959,442. To reach the reduced projected deficit for 2013, Miller proposed interventions on the income and expense sides.

Recommended income interventions total $94,500. They include 5 percent increases to fees, fines and ambulance to raise $37,000; recreation fees from non-city residents to generate $20,000; and a 10 percent increase to administrative charges for water, sewer and Oneonta Public Transit for $32,500.

The proposed cuts in the police department would save $150,000. Other recommended spending cuts are: two vacant positions in the public works department to save $103,000; the mayor’s salary by $7,000; labor relations contract by $20,000; and non-personnel or non-capital spending by $147,000.

At last week’s council meeting, Fourth Ward council member Michael Lynch submitted an amendment to maintain police department funding. He objected to the lack of scrutiny in the staffing change proposed by Miller.

Police Chief Dennis Nayor responded to a request by Lynch to provide details about the long-term impact of the proposed cuts. Nayor’s memorandum to Long reviewed the department’s progress in hiring well-qualified candidates and improvements in staff morale and resources. However, with turnover, retirements and personnel leaves, reducing authorized staffing would strain the department, he said.

Miller has formed a task force to study staffing and other issues in the police department.

On Monday, Second Ward council member Larry Malone said he continues researching the impact of council actions this year on police recruiting, interviewing and hiring and didn’t have enough information to decide on the amendment.

Malone said he “would rather tolerate a smaller deficit’’ and didn’t want to be rushed into a decision only because the budget must be approved next week.

The council invested this year in cameras and stun guns, he said, and decisions on adding positions in the police department could be made next year.

However, Malone said, the question of intentions and obligations concerning a recently interviewed candidate need to be clarified.