Concerns about funding positions in the police and fire departments were raised again Tuesday night before the Oneonta Common Council approved a 2014 budget by a vote of 5 to 2.
The $15,314,600 general fund budget for 2014 carries a $4,515,615 tax levy, which is up $69,799 or 1.57 percent. A homeowner with a property assessed at $100,000 would see a city tax bill of $1,432.55, an increase of $24.04. Under the plan, $538,000 of unassigned fund balance would close a shortfall.
The council will hold a public hearing on the plan at City Hall at 7 p.m. Monday and will vote on adopting the budget Dec. 3.
Last month, Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller announced that the 2014 budget proposal carried a $2 million deficit, and city officials and the council have since been wrestling with cuts. An earlier version proposed cutting four unfilled public safety positions, two each from the police and fire departments, for a savings estimated at about $250,000.
City officials and council members debated at recent meetings the impact of costs and coverage, and about 30 police and fire department members attended a meeting to urge that positions be maintained.
The version presented by city manager Michael Long last week for adoption maintained the four positions with a caveat that staff may have to be cut in later years. About 70 percent of the city’s costs are personnel expenses, he said.
At City Hall on Tuesday night, council members Bob Brzozowski of the Seventh Ward and Chip Holmes of the Eighth Ward voted against the budget proposal because they said it didn’t go far enough to address personnel costs and preserve the city’s reserves.
Other members supporting the budget and applying the $538,000 said the spending plan is in line with the council’s five-year plan to eliminate the city’s structural deficit.
However, Brzozowski said, the agreement was to apply that amount and not about fiscal factors in the budget, which he described as using too much of the city’s “rainy day fund.”
“I have no apologies for voting against a budget that’s unsustainable,” Brzozowski said.
Holmes agreed, further saying that by postponing tough decisions now, the council will hit a financial wall in a few years and have to cut jobs.
“I think we’re putting ourselves in a very difficult position,” Holmes said.
Larry Malone, council member from the Second Ward and chairman of the Finance Committee, said he wasn’t in a position to know the appropriate levels of staffing in the police and fire departments, but the council has made a “big step” by applying the $538,000 as part of the multi-year plan.
“I’m being faithful to that step,” Malone said. “I’m voting for the budget.”
Council members Russ Southard of the Sixth Ward and Michael Lynch of the Fourth Ward echoed comments in agreement.
“The budget does exactly what we set out to do,” Lynch said. “That’s what I’m supporting.”
Holmes suggestion that the council have a task force to identify revenues for the city met with support from at least two other members, including Lynch who suggested that Holmes be chairman of the panel.
Maureen Hennessy, First Ward council member, and David Rissberger, Third Ward council member, also voted for the budget. Madolyn Palmer, council member from the Fifth Ward, was absent.
A task force this year has been studying staffing levels in the Oneonta Police Department and other issues.
On Tuesday night, Police Chief Dennis Nayor told the council that Det. Sgt. Jeff Jump retired Nov. 1 after 20 years of service and Officer Mark Stanard resigned as of Nov. 12 to accept a position with the Town of Dewitt Police Department.
In other business Tuesday night, the council:
• Appointed Capt. James Maloney to assistant fire chief effective Dec. 16 at a salary of $70,000 with an annual stipend of $1,500 for emergency management services.
Assistant Chief Shane Mattice is retiring from the fire department effective Dec. 15, Chief Patrick Pidgeon said.
• Approved resolutions to allow funding to complete street projects on Market Street and Wells Avenue.
• Approved changes to parking regulations and fees.