Fulton Aldermen Enact New Budget Amidst Discussion of Police and Fire Overtime Costs

Fulton City Aldermen Tuesday approved a budget for 2010 that raises spending about $100,000 but contains no tax increase.

“When you consider that over the past six years, our city has suffered the loss of the Nestle Company, the Fulton Cogeneration Company and the A. L. Lee Memorial Hospital most recently, I feel we are fortunate to have been able to keep taxes as stable as they have been,” Mayor Ron Woodward said in a brief address at the start of the public hearing on the budget.

The budget totals $15.4 million dollars.  The tax levy will remain at $16.40 per $1,000 of assessed value.  There are separate budgets for the water, sewer and garbage functions, which total $4.7 million, but those budgets are fully funded by fees paid by city residents for water and sewer use and garbage and refuse removal.

The city had to absorb a $410,000 increase in its share of worker retirement costs and $78,000 in mandated costs for equipment for the fire department.  The retirement fund contribution will go up another $410,000 for the 2011 budget.  It saved money by combining some jobs, most notably the jobs of City Clerk and City Chamberlain, which Woodward said saved the city $70,000 even after giving an extra $5,000 to Jim Laboda for taking on the Clerk’s job.

The city intends to bring in more money in 2010 because it canceled three payment in lieu of taxes agreements and put those properties back on the tax rolls. One of the three agreements was for the River Glen Mall, which paid the city neither property taxes nor a payment in lieu of taxes as part of the agreement that annexed the shopping center property into the city so it could collect sales taxes from those businesses.

The budget also contains a raise for the Mayor, to $28,250 for the part-time job, which was one of the concerns of one of the speakers at the public hearing.  Frank Castiglia said that the raises for Woodward and Laboda may be justified, but “we can’t afford to give raises if we’re behind the 8 ball.”  He urged the city to ask its unions to give back the raises in their contracts, but only if raises for non-union employees are canceled as well.

He also said the city needed to get a handle on its overtime costs.  Overtime for the police department is budgeted at $371,000 for 2010 and for the fire department at $330,000.  Those two departments spend more than $1,900 per day for overtime.  Woodward said much of the fire department’s overtime is mandated by its contract, which provides mandatory minimum numbers of firefighters on duty at all times.  He added that since firefighters work round-the-clock shifts, one sick day equals 24 hours of overtime to bring in a replacement.  Long-term injuries and longtime employees with many vacation and comp days also add to the overtime cost.

“Go ahead and pass it,” Castiglia said of the budget.  “Put another nail in the coffin.  Or you can send it back to the Mayor” for more cuts.

Tim Farrell, a local businessman who has organized a citizens’ committee to study local government, agreed with Castiglia on the costs of police and fire overtime.  “There must be something we can do,” he said.

Catherine Mosier of the Fulton Public Library board urged Aldermen to restore a cut to its appropriation, warning that the library will have to cut back from 69 hours of operation per week to 54 and will have to eliminate a staff member.  She noted that their longest-tenured employees have been there for 20 and 18 years and are working for $11 and $9 per hour, respectively.  At the same time, library use is increasing because of the recession.

“We don’t want to cut down on what we’re offering the public,” she said.  “We are serving people who may not be able to buy the books, buy the DVDs or have the computer at home.”

As the hearing ended and Aldermen voted unanimously to enact the budget, Alderman Bob Weston, in his final regular meeting of a 16 year career on the Common Council, commended Woodward for the effort to save money.  “Let’s face it,” Weston said. “In the last 6 years, we’ve had one tax increase.”