FULTON, NY – The Fulton Common Council unanimously passed a $16,775,050 budget that held tax rates steady at roughly $20.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Fulton Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr. said he and members of the Fulton Common Council, city clerk/chamberlain Dan O’Brien, and city department heads worked together to create a budget that serves the city as cost efficiently as possible.
“I think the key to the budget is maintaining the level of service that residents expect while keeping the tax rate stable with reasonable expectations for revenue and expenditures,” O’Brien said.
The city’s total expenditures raised $283,050 from last year, however, total revenues have increased as well by nearly $289,141 to $9,895,138.
City officials have continued their push to sell properties forfeited to the city on tax foreclosure, in part contributing to a nominal increase of $1.67 million of the total assessed value of the city, coming in at $339,204,253.
Real property taxes collected $6,952,996, when paired with tax items, make up more than 45 percent of the city’s revenue source.
Public safety continues to be majority spending, totaling 48 percent of the city’s expenditures in public safety and the police and fire retirement system despite reasonable union contract agreements and cuts in spending.
Fulton Police Department will spend nearly $90,000 less in 2019 primarily due to hiring new officers at a lower starting rate than retirees. As five new officers are expected to complete the academy in early 2019, FPD will be hiring four additional officers in spring of 2019.
Fulton Fire Department will spend $2,592 less in 2019 with the largest cost saving coming from a $50,000 cut in overtime and $28,347 in personal services.
With department heads keeping spending minimal, public questioning centered around salaries for several city employees.
Fulton resident Tammy Bednarz said she calculated a total of roughly $130,000 in salary increases for various city positions.
While Woodward explained each position, Bednarz requested that city officials ensure that raises to city employees are made only to create more responsibility to produce change for the Fulton community.
“We’ve got a lot of things in our community that we need to improve,” she said. “I’m just asking that you’re making sure that these increases are benefiting the community, not just employees of the city.”
Woodward reminded that one of the biggest cost for the city is the people that work for it.
“It’s not just people, it’s the benefits too,” he said. “We’re at bare bones. If we cut anymore, we cut services.”
In recent years, the city has cut and consolidated as many positions as possible to be able to continue offering the same services with minimal manpower for the sake of cost saving.
Currently, the city water department employs seven people, sewer employs nine, recreation employs two, garbage employs 11, Department of Public Works employs 16, code enforcement employs two full-time and two part-time, four department heads, and other office and legislative total 25.
“I work with these people all the time. I know them, I know how dedicated they are,” Woodward said.
Overall, Woodward said the 2019 budget shows that the city is “starting to turn the corner.”
“If we continue to do some developing and working in this direction, we hope to see taxes start to go the other way,” he said.
The general budget passed unanimously by all members of the Common Council.
The city’s 2019 water and garbage budgets saw no increase, while the sewer budget will see another increase after the most recent increase in 2016.
Sewer rates will increase from $4.20 per 1000 gallons to $4.94 per 1000 gallons.
Based on a family of four estimated usage of 20,000 gallons of water per quarter, quarterly price would increase roughly $15, an increase of less than $5 per month.
Shortly after raising sewer rates in 2016, Oswego County Director of Solid Waste Mark Powell notified Fulton that the county would begin delivering their leachate to the city of Oswego rather than the city of Fulton effective January 1, 2017, generating a loss of $200,000 annually in revenue for the sewer fund.
“Thus, the already adopted sewer rate increase (of 2016) would not be enough to stabilize the sewer budget in the upcoming years. In 2019, we are still affected and will continue to be affected by the loss of County leachate. In order to make up for this loss of revenue, we will be required to incrementally increase sewer rates over the next several years,” DPW Commissioner C.J. Smith said.
The sewer budget will only be equalized in 2019 despite an increase of 17.5 percent.
“We need to continue to explore ways to efficiently operate while at the same time taking care of the infrastructure we have in place. This infrastructure is capable of opening new doors to the city in the future but it is vital that we continue to maintain to the best of our ability what we have in place,” he added.
Smith provided graphical evidence that Fulton still falls among the lowest of water and sewer rates when compared to other municipalities.
“There’s not much we can do,” Mayor Woodward said. “Before the increase in 2016, we hadn’t increased sewer rates since 1989. We are still competitive with other cities and when it’s broken down, it’s $15 a quarter for a family of four or $10 a quarter for an individual so I think people will be able to afford it. Nobody likes it, I certainly don’t like it, but the reality is – you can’t operate in the red.”
The Fulton Common Council unanimously passed separate resolutions approving the 2019 water, refuse and garbage, and sanitation budgets.