FULTON, NY – After six months of research the city of Fulton received its review report from the state’s financial restructuring board on Monday (June 30) which includes several recommendations and an offering of $400,000 in grant money if certain conditions are met.
“There’s still more they want us to do,” Mayor Ron Woodward said on Tuesday.
During the Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments meeting on Monday (June 30) Todd Sherman, of the state’s budget division, reviewed for members the freshly published comprehensive reviews for the first three communities that the committee agreed to undertake, including the city of Fulton.
“The first applicant community was the city of Fulton,” Sherman said during that meeting. “The erosion of the economic base in the city of Fulton is a particular challenge. With the loss of the facilities of Nestle, Birdseye and Miller Brewing over time the community has lost in excess of 3,000 full time positions. So that is really the fundamental challenge that we face.”
The city asked for help from the state’s review board last October after Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli declared the city in fiscal distress due to its higher than average property tax rate and dwindling financial reserves.
Monday’s FRB meeting and released report fulfilled the board’s initial obligation to the city of Fulton to assist the ailing municipality with its foundering economy by devising a comprehensive review plan within six months of its November application acceptance.
In the 27 page Comprehensive Review Report ratified by the FRB on Monday, there are a few caveats noted before any grant money would be awarded.
The first is that in order to quality for any financial assistance the city must first develop a shared services plan with the county and “its other governmental neighbors.”
“It really is the gateway recommendation,” Sherman told FRB members Monday. “At the point where we have a shared services plan we will come back to the board with that recommendation, then there are other recommendations that we would also come back to the board with specific grant recommendations.”
During meetings with FRB staff over the past six months, Woodward pointed out that the city already shares services as outlined in the chart below, but the board’s report states, “successful development and implementation of this shared services plan is a prerequisite to receiving any other potential board award or grant.”
The FRB notes that its chart also highlights “significant duplication of services” between Fulton, the county, and the towns of Granby and Volney.
Although board members did not state in their synopsis any exact requirements or recommendations to meet the shared services condition, the report states, “If the city of Fulton is to begin to restore balance to and rebuild its financial structure and annual budget, it must maximize available savings from pursuing and implementing a new shared services plan with its governmental partners. An effective plan will not only enable the city to reduce its cost structure going forward, but should also help partnering governments to reduce their costs as well.”
Once that condition has been met, the FRB has offered the city of Fulton $50,000 in grant money for leaders to update and/or revise the community’s “Comprehensive Master Plan” as a way to identify challenges, opportunities and resources “to reinvent the municipality with a five-, ten-, and twenty-year road map for the future.”
With respect to future development, the board recommends Fulton’s leaders continue to pursue developers and buyers for the city owned former Fulton Terminals superfund site along state Route 481.
While Woodward has indicated there are commercial investors interested in the property, without adequate sewer – which the city does not have money to install – those remain pipe dreams.
Once the Comprehensive Master Plan is in place, “the Board may, in its sole discretion, award a grant of up to $100,000 to the city to help defray the costs of extending sewer infrastructure, tied to a plan to secure new businesses and job creation. … (but) any potential award … shall be contingent upon the successful development and implementation of the recommended shared services plan,” the report states.
The FRB’s report also acknowledges the forward momentum at the former Nestle’s plant and its interest in helping to further that progress by way of a $250,000 grant to help the city “create shovel ready land to attract new businesses development and ownership.”
If the city obtains ownership of the property, the grant money could be used to help the city defray the costs of demolition and asbestos removal, and would be tied to a plan to bring new businesses and jobs to the community, according to the report recommendation.
Meanwhile, Woodward said on Tuesday that the city is monitoring current owner Carbonstead LLC as it works through its contract obligations already in place to bring an ALDI’s Food Store to the property, at the same time city leaders are working to secure the community’s interest if the scrap company’s owner is unable to fulfill his obligations.
Other recommendations noted in the Comprehensive Review encourage the city to alter its relationship with the county for collection of unpaid property taxes; and to budget within the state’s 2 percent tax cap in order to qualify for 2015 tax relief offered by the state.
The FRB also advised city leaders it would be in the community’s best interest to:
- Pursue special state legislation to create a Real Property Tax exemption program with incentives for new development and redevelopment to grow the city’s tax base and help to minimize or reduce blight, while also increasing the overall quality of life for residents;
- Address during its upcoming contract negotiations with its fire and police unions the “certain contractual work rules or requirements leading to unaffordable costs”;
- And consider City Code revisions to raise thresholds on competitive bidding, adding more detail to its supplemental purchasing policy, and consider hiring a purchasing agent.
The resolution unanimously approved by the FRB Monday states, “If the city agrees to abide by and implement one or more of the recommendations contained in the Comprehensive Review report, the board may, in its sole discretion, award funding to implement the recommendations of the report; the specific structure and conditions of any such funding, which would be developed in consultation with the city, and any other aspects of such funding would be subject to an affirmative vote of a majority of the total members of the board at a later date.”
“This is just the end of the beginning,” FRB Chairman Robert Menga said. “We need more work to get done and that’s certainly true with the Comprehensive Review Report for the city of Fulton.”
The New York State Restructuring Board for Local Governments was staffed with 10 appointees last fall to make recommendations to qualified local governments on improving fiscal stability, management and the delivery of public services.
The board is empowered to provide awards of up to $5 million per municipality through the Local Government Performance Efficiency Program to eligible applicants and also serves as an alternative arbitration panel for binding arbitration between municipalities and unions such as police and fire.
City leaders received the report on Tuesday and are reviewing its content and recommendations.