ONEONTA — A majority of Common Council members voiced support Tuesday night for keeping one of two vacant police positions in next year’s budget.
Members expressed their views after a public hearing on the proposed budget at City Hall. About 15 public safety employees, mostly police officers with some firefighters, attended the hearing to back Police Chief Dennis Nayor.
The group stood as Sgt. Chris Witzenburg made a statement supporting the chief, saying that the two positions should remain in the budget until a recently formed task force has studied staffing and other department matters. The elimination of the two posts “is scary’’ in part because the department is “young,’’ he said, and reduced staff numbers pose challenges in times of attrition.
Mayor Dick Miller reminded police that two positions have been vacant for more than a year. The budget is a fluid document, he said, which can be changed to accommodate additional positions if the council chooses.
Witzenburg and several council members complimented Nayor’s memorandum this week to city Manager Michael Long on the long-term impact of the pending cuts and other police issues.
Council members withheld making any changes to the budget until Tuesday, when a plan must be approved as presented or amended. Miller said an amendment requires approval by a super-majority of the council, or six members.
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 proposed general fund budget has a deficit of $457,000, down from a preliminary projection of $959,442. To reach the reduced projected deficit for 2013, Miller proposed interventions to boost revenues, such as $20,000 in recreation fees for residents outside the city and town of Oneonta, and to cut expenses, such as cutting two vacant police officer positions to save $150,000.
The budget proposal carries a tax levy of $4.4 million, which is up 2 percent and within the state-mandated cap.