FULTON, NY – The city of Fulton’s 2018 budget will be up for discussion at a public hearing set for Tuesday, December 12.
The $16,492,000 budget will be available on the city website or at the Clerk/Chamberlain’s office a week prior to the public hearing.
Members of the public can review the budget and weigh in at the public hearing on December 12, opening after the public comment portion of the regular common council meeting to begin at 7 p.m. at the Fulton Municipal Building, 141 S. First St.
Despite a preliminary tax increase of 6.5 percent, Mayor Ron Woodward and City Clerk/Chamberlain Dan O’Brien worked with city department heads to make reductions resulting in a 0.5-percent increase, though all were hopeful the end result would be a zero percent increase.
From there, members of the common council reviewed the budget line by line to suggest areas of improvement and address any concerns.
A cut of $40,000 from medical insurance was possible due to over projected estimates, enabling the budget to reach a zero percent change in tax rate, the second year in a row.
The tax rate remains the same as 2017 at $20.62 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Common councilors have requested a more transparent budget process by being included in initial meetings with department heads in years moving forward.
Majority spending continues to come from public safety at 42 percent of the city’s appropriations and an additional nine percent in police and fire retirement system. Medical insurance is the next largest spending source at 19 percent.
The majority of city revenue stems from real property taxes and tax items at nearly 46 percent of the city’s income. Non-property taxes make up roughly 39 percent of the city’s revenues with state and federal aid the next largest revenue source at nearly 12 percent.
O’Brien said he is “confident” in the budget being presented and both he and Mayor Woodward said they see no concerning or alarming areas of the budget.
However, debate erupted among the council after First Ward councilor, Tom Kenyon suggested a pay raise for the six members of the council.
A request for a $250 raise for each councilor totals $1,500 and raises the councilor’s annual salary to $7,995 each, which does not affect the city’s tax rate, O’Brien said.
Sixth Ward councilor, Larry Macner strongly opposed the request, noting that the city is still labeled as moderately fiscally stressed by the NYS Comptroller’s Office.
“I just don’t feel it’s right,” Macner said. “Take it out, please. We are still moderately fiscally distressed, our police department took a zero percent raise for four years. With all the zero percent and moderate stress, I feel we should pull it. We shouldn’t be in this for the money, and it’s not a lot of money but it’s a principle thing. I feel horrible, I really do.”
Kenyon suggested Macner vote no to the resolution, but in the event that the raise goes through, to donate his money to a cause he supports instead.
“It’s been 15 years since the council received a raise. We went to everything in this city out there, spend a lot of gas because we drive our ward. There’s no perfect timing for it, but it comes to $5 a week and I think it’s foolish to argue about it,” Kenyon said.
Due to the disagreement, as well as the absence of the fourth and fifth ward councilors due to illness, Mayor Woodward has included a resolution for a roll call vote on whether to approve or decline a raise for the Common Council at the December 12 regular meeting.
The raise is included in the projected 2018 budget, but can be removed in the event that it is voted down, O’Brien said.
Despite the council disagreement, council president and Second Ward councilor Dave Ritchie is pleased with the budget overall.
“I think it’s great, everyone did a good job working on it hard and trimming it down. We got all of our answers on the council and are pleased with the result. Anytime you’re at zero, you can’t complain,” he said.
Mayor Woodward agreed, saying “I’m happy with it, I only wish we could get it lower. We understand the tax burden on the people of Fulton, that’s why we strive to get the tax rate as low as we can while still providing all the services we do.”