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October 16, 2013

Council shaves projected budget gap

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — The Oneonta Common Council discussed personnel and capital spending in continued efforts Tuesday night to close a budget gap projected for 2014.

By the end of the 90-minute meeting at City Hall, the gap had been cut to about $153,000, city finance director Meg Hungerford said. That figure would put the city’s proposal at a previous plan that carries a $538,000 deficit, she said.

Earlier this month, the mayor announced that the 2014 budget proposal carried a $2 million deficit, based on revenues of about $14.5 million and spending estimated at $16.7 million.

At the conclusion of Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Dick Miller said important information had been shared. Council members should feel confident that the gap will closed, he said, and they will see a department-by-department budget to review in time for adopting a budget.

Michael Lynch, council member from the Fourth Ward, said during discussions that he had expected more detailed information Tuesday night after last week’s budget workshop. But City Manager Michael Long and Miller urged council members to continue the review based on materials presented.

Council members at a workshop last week gave preliminary agreements to a range of cuts, including deferments of $155,000 in improvements to the parking garage and $120,000 in upgrades to fire alarm systems at City Hall and in the public works department.

The council agreed Tuesday night to defer an estimated $110,000 to install a new traffic light at Church and Center streets, an intersection currently under study with all-way stops. Expenses to renovate the bathhouse and for the Greenway project were cut by 20 percent.

Chip Holmes, council member from the Eighth Ward, stressed the importance of capital funding for streets, and the council discussed spending $900,000 or $1 million as planned.

Some cuts were made in personnel expenses while others reductions remain under review. In other points, the council discussed:

• Staffing in the police department, which has been fluctuating with turnover. Miller said a chart will be created with budgeted, current and projected employment levels. 

Holmes said a prudent step budget-wise would be to maintain vacancies. But Lynch said the issue had to be viewed in context and the police chief shouldn’t be penalized for not filling vacancies in an effort to meet his high standards.

In agreeing with Lynch, Madolyn Palmer, Fifth Ward council member, and said she didn’t want to see cuts in the police department.

• A need for replacing a 1987 ladder truck in the fire department, and members requested data on costs of a new, used or leased vehicle.

• A motion about stop signs at the intersection of Center Street and Taft Avenue and Joseph Lunn Drive pending discussion with Maureen Hennessy, First Ward council member, who was absent. The signs are at streets in the First Ward.

• A motion to seek proposals from lawyers to support collective bargaining failed, with council members disagreeing on the need for such legal assistance given the city’s human resources and administrative staff.