The 2013 Fulton city budget is nearly complete and many weeks of trimming and cutting has produced a budget that raises taxes but fits under the state property tax cap, Mayor Ronald Woodward said.
“I’m seeing (the budget) in my sleep,” Woodward said at a budget work session Saturday. “I’ve probably seen it 100 times.”
He, city Clerk/Chamberlain Jim Laboda and Council President Jay Foster discussed with members of the Common Council a $15.4 million budget that does not cut services, cuts two positions in the fire department through retirements and raises taxes about 3.23%.
Under the state’s complicated rules for calculating the cap on increases in tax levies, Woodward said the proposed increase would be below the cap level. City lawmakers will probably approve a waiver of the tax cap anyways, because the state imposes stiff penalties on those who stay with the cap and exceed it.
The increase in the tax rate to $17.07 per thousand would add about $25 per year to the tax bill of a $50,000 home before exemptions such as STAR.
The budget uses $300,000 from the city’s reserve fund, its appropriated fund balance, to keep down the tax levy.
Expenses the city can control are generally budgeted to be down. Among those that are up are those that are controlled either by the state or by labor contracts:
- Employee life insurance benefits, up 34%
- Employee medical insurance, up 10%
- A general insurance fund, up 9%
- Fire and police employee benefits, up about 4%
Woodward said the insurance increase was unexpected. He said he was told that the increase is due to the massive cost to insurers of paying for the damage of Hurricane Sandy.
The cost of salaries in the police and fire departments are essentially flat. The city is in the second year of a three year contract agreement that provides for no pay increases in 2013. The city is forced to pay large increases in contributions to employee, police and fire retirements but Woodward said the city is borrowing to spread out those increases over 10 years.
Woodward asked lawmakers if they wanted to cut the budget further. If they did, he said, they would have to eliminate a job and lay off a person.
He said that, for example, they could lay off the city’s dog warden. But, he said, the cost of unemployment benefits for that person would be greater than the amount of money saved in payroll. And a service to the public would be gone.
“You really can’t cut anyone,” said council member Pete Franco. “You gotta pay ’em to stay home, you might as well pay ’em to work,” said council member Dan Knopp.
The city has eliminated more than 20 positions in the last five years.
“It’s not like we’ve got a lot of wasteful spending here,” said Woodward.
Woodward said he will continue to review the budget until about mid-week, when it must be frozen in advance of the public hearing required to pass the budget. The budget is tentatively scheduled to be approved at a special meeting at the end of the month.