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Council To Consider Changing Budget Cycle

OSWEGO, NY – The Port City is looking to change its budget schedule.

At Monday night’s meeting of the Administrative Services Committee, Council President Ron Kaplewicz requested discussion regarding changing the budget cycle.

The change will be beneficial to the city, he said.

Currently, the mayor has to present his proposed spending plan to the council by Aug. 1 and the council has to approve it by Aug. 31.

The process was changed by resolution in 2002 after the council decided to allow the public to have a say if the proposed budget had a tax increase of 5 percent or more.

However, now the state has come up with a 2 percent cap.

“The challenge that we have with this, the department heads and the mayor … are using projections based  on six or seven months when many of the appropriations that are made to the city from the state and otherwise, sales tax and whatnot, we are taking a good guess at where we’re going to be,” Kaplewicz pointed out. “In order to have a good budget, where you can make better decisions of your revenues and your expenses, have a budget that is due in December. It kind of puts us all in a better position to manage the dollars that we have in a more effective and efficient manner.”

It has to be done by local law to change the charter, Gay Williams, city attorney, pointed out.

And every local law has to be preceded by a public hearing, she added.

There needs to be a resolution passed by the council to schedule the public hearing. But, before that happens, the actual language of the local law has to be written and the councilors have to have it on their desk at the time the public hearing is scheduled and then it has to be advertised, she explained.

New York State passed the 2 percent property tax levy, “a cap on the amount that we could raise based on the tax levy,” Kaplewicz said. “So, the 5 percent becomes a moot point. What the state has put in place is actually much more restrictive.”

The budget cycle ending at the end of the year “makes a whole lot more sense,” the council president said.

“Every single year, as you said councilor, it is hard to predict what the sales taxes are going to be, and we’ve seen such a big increase in the last couple of years,” said First Ward Councilor Connie Cosemento.

This will put the city on the same fiscal calendar as the residents, she added.

“One of the reasons you observe so many departments coming to the council and asking for transfers is that they have had to budget a year and a half really before the actually date,” Cosemento added. “We are so far ahead of ourselves time-wise when the sales tax and property taxes and increases in expenses have hit us, it blows our budget apart.”

The councilors wanted to know, if passed, when would the new local law actually go into affect.

It would be almost immediately, the city attorney said. “You have to file it with the state and it takes affect about 10 days later, she added

“It would be in effect for the 2012 budget,” she said.

“Would we have to re-budget?” Cosemento asked.

It just sets a date, Williams said. The council would use it in 2012 when it plans the 2013 budget, she added.

“So basically, it would take affect immediately. And it would say, ‘proposed budget must be presented to the council no later than Dec. 1 and council has to approve a budget no later than Dec. 31,” she said. “It doesn’t invalidate the 2012 budget that was passed in 2011. It just sets a later date for the passage of the 2013 budget.”

The difficulty now, according to Mayor Randy Bateman, is that he and the city chamberlain have to get the budget plan done in June and July to get it to the council by Aug. 1.

“So we’re working with a half a year’s actual revenues and expenses,” Mayor Bateman said. Everybody else that I know of does it in December.”

When the charter was changed in 2002, that had to go to a public referendum because it curtailed the power of the Common Council, Williams pointed out.

That change said the council couldn’t raise taxes more than 5 percent without having that go to a public referendum, she said.

“This change wouldn’t require a referendum because it doesn’t curtail, it gets rid of that curtailment,” Williams explained.