FULTON, NY – The Fulton Common Council unanimously approved the proposed 2017 budget after brief input during a public hearing held Tuesday, December 6.
The budget proposed no tax increase, holding the tax rate at $20.51 per $1,000 of assessed value.
City officials and department heads worked tirelessly to create a budget that presents no increase, starting with the department heads complete lists of needs and desires and from there trimming back on spending until a financially beneficial agreement could be made.
The $16,246,139 general spending plan is largely driven from public safety totaling 41% of the budget’s spending with an additional 10% dedicated to police and fire retirement system, making up more than half of the city’s spending.
While salaries at the police department will decrease $51,406 an increase of $80,000 in overtime is a large contributor to the department’s overall $25,492 increase in spending, plus an additional $4,819 increase in traffic control.
The fire department will decrease overtime by $20,000 and see an overall increase in spending of $114,468 after salaries increase $110,943.
Fire and police retirement will increase by $118,193 to total $1,593,903. When paired with retirement for all other city employees totaling $287,855 the city will spend a total of $1,881,758 on retirement.
County legislator representative of the city of Fulton, Frank Castiglia suggested two changes in police and fire in attempt to control spending.
First, Castiglia proposed the closing of the west side fire station, suggesting to store equipment somewhere else in the city and possibly sell the building to return to the tax roll, seeing a need for only one operating fire station in the city.
He also suggested that there are two police officers per patrol car as opposed to one for both safety purposes and financial saving purposes.
The other large contributing factors to the city’s spending comes from medical insurance that even while decreasing by $23,899 will still cost the city $3,275,260; 20% of the city’s spending, as well as state retirement spending $287,555 to total $1,881,758 in total retirement spending when combined with fire and police retirement.
A $31,224 spending increase for code enforcement intends to be worthwhile as new permit fees and changes in the codes department will raise revenue throughout the future.
Castiglia also addressed the concern of a $90,173 increase in debt payment.
“What we are doing is increasing the debt over a period of time where at some point we aren’t going to be able to get any more loans possibly and for that reason what will happen is, future administrations will be saddled with something they can’t do anything with because there’s no more bonding,” he said.
Castiglia suggested bonding for large items, but not bonding for items such as patrol cars or trucks which would instead come from the general fund, although he acknowledged there isn’t an accessible general fund to utilize at this time.
“I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with the budget, it’s the budgeting process throughout the whole year. If we come in next year and we have not bonded for anything throughout the year, I’ll come in and say ‘excellent year’ because that means we have not added any costs to anyone at any point in the year,” he explained.
While the city’s spending will increase by $274,465, the city’s revenues will also increase by $219,300 to total $9,607,928.
The largest component to the increase comes from the common council’s successful efforts to sell the city’s tax acquired properties, earning the city money from purchase as well as returning the properties to the tax roll.
The budget shows an increase of more than $136,000 in the sale of tax foreclosed properties as well as an increase of $26,800 for rental of such properties.
A $1,780,146 increase of the total assessed value of the city to total $326,419,421 was instrumental in helping the tax rate stay to no increase.
The water, garbage, and sewer budgets were each expected to benefit from rate hikes approved in October until a last minute loss of leachate presented a $200,000 loss in the sewer budget.
Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr. explained that the Oswego County Legislature had chosen recently to take the leachate to the city of Oswego instead.
“The history goes back all the way to 1986,” Woodward explained, when the county needed help and asked the city of Fulton to take the leachate. “And right up until last week we were taking that leachate,” Woodward said.
Although the sudden change was referred to as a “backdoor deal” and means a $200,000 loss of revenue in the city’s sewer budget, Woodward said it is a good deal for both parties as they reached a deal that can’t be compromised in Fulton due to permit specifications.
County legislator representing the city of Fulton, James Karasek said he was not fully aware of the conversations happening surrounding the leachate and was not in support of the change and more so, the lack of communication and involvement in the decision.
The budget presented at the hearing had already been adjusted to account for the loss and was rebalanced by pushing back purchases and replacements that were expected to be funded in this year’s budget, Woodward explained.
“I’m not criticizing it, they did what they had to do. The only issue I have with it is before we set our budget, the $200,000 would have been good to know, that’s not a small detail,” Woodward said. “We don’t want to whine about it, we have to do something to go out and make up that revenue.”
He explained that by pushing back the intended purchases, the $200,000 loss has been recovered for the 2017 budget, however city officials intend to make the $200,000 from someone else in future years.
Castiglia questioned whether city officials had looked into leaving the sewer business, to which Woodward said they have considered it when weighing all options, but found it would not be beneficial either financially or for flexibility concerning public outcry as the taxpayers are then subjected to the privatized payments only with no public input opportunity.
The sewer budget shows a loss of $116,502 in revenue due to the loss of leachate and even with a $104,491 decrease in spending, the sewer budget sees a $127,758 total deficit.
The garbage and refuse budget will benefit from the rate increases, with revenues expected to increase $151,838.50. Garbage costs will also increase by $131,603 leaving a difference of $1,836 to be put in the fund balance.
The water budget is expected to see revenue increase by $295,926 while decreasing spending by $52,779 allowing the city to allocate $117,643 to the water fund balance.
“We did the best we can. We are still working hard to try to put properties back on the tax roll, we’re working hard on Nestles, we are close with Aldi we are shooting to close next Friday. We are coming, it’s not as fast as everyone might like, but we’re doing it as fast as we can. I think that’s the key, we’ve got to hang together and try to keep developing the city and build it back up.” said Mayor Woodward.