FULTON, NY – The Fulton Common Council held the first regular meeting of 2017 on Tuesday (Jan 3) but before getting to official business, County Legislator Frank Castiglia Jr, D-Fulton, approached the council to address the opportunity for a county wide grant potentially involving Fulton’s cooperation to consider dissolving the city.
While Mayor Woodward has been aware of the grant opportunity, Castiglia addressed his opinion and presented information from the NYS Department of State to the council members.
The Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Competition, MCEC, “is a program designed to support counties and other local governments to pursue opportunities for consolidation, shared services, and local government modernizations that reduce the property tax burden,” according to an informational packet from the Department of State that Castiglia provided to the council.
The packet continued to explain that each local government that wishes to apply will be required to develop a Municipal Consolidation and Efficiency Plan, MCEP with funding available to do so.
Ultimately, the plan showing the “most innovative thinking in regards to governmental consolidation and property tax reduction” will have the opportunity to follow up on approximately $20 million in grant money to apply the strategies of the plan.
Castiglia addressed the grant from a county wide standpoint, however noted that a “key factor” of the competition is that one municipality from the county must be willing to look at dissolving, suggesting Fulton consider the option as he has been pursuing for a year.
The information from Department of State said directly, “at least one County, City, Town or Village consolidation must be proposed in the Intent to Propose.”
Castiglia explained that the procedures of the grant could allow the City of Fulton to conduct a feasibility study focused on the option to dissolve the city at no cost of their own.
“The study would be paid for by state taxes,” he said, just to determine if the option is feasible. “If it is feasible, it would go to the general public (for vote.) If it’s not, then we haven’t lost a dime.”
He continued to explain that if the municipality decided it was in their best interest to dissolve, some of the $20 million award money “could and should be earmarked to pay off debt of the municipality.”
However, city clerk/chamberlain Daniel O’Brien noted that not all debt of a municipality can simply be paid off as there are often strict time lines to repayment.
“I personally don’t believe it could work,” Mayor Woodward announced, but agreed to follow through with the grant opportunity should the council want to move forward.
He then questioned whether the city would dissolve into a town or village, or if the county would take over, citing many questions that remain unanswered.
He continued to note that as a city, Fulton receives over $1 million in state aid whereas a village would receive substantially less.
Castiglia told Woodward that the feasibility study would answer all these unknown questions.
While Castiglia has been actively in pursuit of looking into the opportunity to dissolve the city of Fulton for only a year, he has thought about the possibilities for the past five years.
“I have been hearing people say things like, ‘last one out of the city turn off the lights,’ ‘close the doors it’s all over,’ ‘welcome to the city of Fulton, the city with no future.’ I was tired of all that talk and I asked myself, what can I do to help save what is left of my city?” he said.
And with that, Castiglia said he begin looking into the city’s financial situation and what it would mean to look into the option to dissolve.
Looking at things like bond debt and public safety costs, Castiglia began to weigh the measures of dissolving.
“The city is bonding items like police cars, garbage trucks, plows, four wheel drive trucks, etc. All those items should be paid for out of a general fund. The city isn’t able to do that. The city receives over $6,000,000 in sales tax revenue from the county. At least half or three-quarters of that should be going into the general fund and it’s not. It is being used to pay the bills,” he explained.
“All of the fine work by our great civil groups will not pay these bills. They will make it a very nice place to live but the taxes will still be too high for the average person to own a home here. I feel we owe it to these groups to see what, if anything, we can do to compliment their hard work and dedication to our city,” Castiglia continued.
Ultimately, Woodward said the city will likely provide a letter to support the study to determine if there are any possible benefits to dissolving.
“I’m not in favor of it, I don’t believe it will change things. I think the end result would be reduction in the lifestyle of city residents but that’s only my opinion. To be fair and to put it to bed, the study should be done. There’s a lot of questions that haven’t been answered,” Woodward said.
Castiglia emphasized that the study will not determine the outcome, that fate rests only in the hands of the public.
“It wouldn’t cost the city anything to look. One has to remember that the voters will have the final say as to whether or not the city is to dissolve. That is the way it should be,” he said.
Director of Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning David Turner has confirmed that Oswego County is addressing the opportunity to move forward with the MCEC.
“We are exploring the opportunity to move forward with the application,” he said. “As stipulated, you must have one proposed dissolution, two communities proposing to consolidate. As of right now, I do not have a commitment for that,” Turner said.
However, a series of meetings next week gives Turner hope that at least two will result in the commitment to look into the study.
Even if the city of Fulton were expressly interested in exploring the option to dissolve, there requires a commitment from another entity to pursue the grant, he said.
“Just because a city may be interested in dissolving, as of right now to my knowledge there isn’t another municipality that said ‘we will take the city in.’ It can’t just dissolve on its own, it has to go someplace, there has to be services provide by somebody. Even if there was a commitment from one entity, there needs to be two, of course,” he explained.
Turner is hopeful to have more information regarding the grant application in the coming week.