By Christine Peets, Staff Intern
FULTON, NY – The small city of Fulton is getting some big attention from New York State.
Fulton is one of the first of two cities to apply for aid from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments. On Tuesday, Fulton’s application for a comprehensive review of its finances was accepted.
To participate in the program, Fulton must abide by some of the suggestions the FRB comes up with. The city could get assistance in the form of a grant up to $5 million.
Fulton, being considered a “fiscally eligible community,” has a tax rate in the top 25 percent, Tim Ryan, Secretary of the FRB, said at Tuesday’s announcement.
Its $16.58 tax rate is “ranks about the eighth highest of all the cities” and the fund balance shows five-year average of more than 12%, but the “more current story for the city is on the decline”
From 2010 – 2012, the general fund balance declined from 14% to 6%.
The city anticipates the 2014 fund balance to decline into the negative category.
Moody’s rates the city of Fulton at a BAA2 rating, “which is a couple of steps above the quote unquote junk bond rating,” he added.
“The Moody’s rating is very scary. We have municipalities close to junk bond status,” said Budget Director Bob Megna who heads up Gov. Cuomo’s Financial Restructuring Board.
At a recent council meeting, Mayor Ron Woodward cited the loss of Nestle and Birdseye as major contributors to the city’s economic woes.
The major expenditure categories for the city are 45% of its budget is public safety and benefits for police and fire.
Fulton’s population of slightly less than 12,000 makes it the 46th largest upstate city.
“Fulton presents enormous challenges. Maybe a city like Fulton, relatively small, but with all the challenges a city faces, might be a good pilot project for us,” Megna said.
State Comptroller DiNapoli said his office is finalizing an audit of Fulton and the board plans to extend a helping-hand to get the process started and to discuss finances.
Matt Driscoll, former Syracuse mayor and president, currently CEO of the NYS Environmental Facilities Corp., and one of the FRB’s board members, said, “I think it would make good sense for this board to meet with the municipal leaders and in particular their staff in order to get our arms around some of their challenges.”
Cities will have six months to have a plan ready for implementation. Locals aren’t required to adopt the plan but may only get state money if they take the plan.
FRB could negotiate with local governments over which elements of the plan to adopt, and then FRB could decide whether to make the state money available.
The city chamberlain directed all requests for comments to the Mayor’s Office. However, Mayor Woodward has been unavailable.