PLATTSBURGH — City of Plattsburgh councilors, new and old, continue to pound away at the 2014 budget, but no major changes are expected.
“Some things may be shifted around a bit, but I don’t see anything on the table that will raise the taxes,” Councilor and Mayor-elect James Calnon (I-Ward 4) said recently.
The outgoing council has been working on the budget since it was presented by Mayor Donald Kasprzak on Oct. 1. The mayor’s spending plan increases the tax levy 2.32 percent, the maximum allowed under the state’s tax-cap formula.
The tentative tax rate is slated to be $10.59 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The 2013 rate was $10.76.
The budget must be approved by Jan. 15.
‘HARD TO ANALYZE’
In the final budget sessions of the year, the council-elect, which features six new councilors plus Calnon, has been going over the $54 million spending plan.
In transition years in the past, the outgoing Common Council usually finishes the budget and the new councilors stamp their approval before the mid-January deadline.
But Calnon said he felt it was important that the incoming council have a say, since its members will be in office next year while the budget is in effect.
Councilor-elect Paul “Crusher” O’Connell (D-Ward 4) expressed concern about the process, saying it is difficult to analyze the spending plan in such a short period of time since it is so new to the incoming councilors.
“We’re letting you do this because you are going to have to live with this budget your first year in office,” Calnon told O’Connell at a recent budget meeting.
Councilor-elect Michael Kelly (D-Ward 2) said he was concerned about the amount of contracted services the city has in the budget. He noted it contains about $2.2 million of services under contract for 2014, which is 8.6 percent higher than in 2013.
“I just want to know if we are making any effort to purchase these services locally, and are the taxpayers getting what they are paying for?” he said.
Calnon said the city contracts services when departments cannot do the work themselves or if money can be saved. The Environmental Engineering Department often needs work done that department head Jonathan Ruff cannot take on himself, Calnon cited as an example.
“It saves us money in a lot of places,” he said.
One area the new council is considering changing is in the Information Technology Department. Director Bryan Brayton said he could use another employee in the two-person department to handle work on the city’s 300 personal computers and 119 printers.
He said industry standards call for one technician per 50 computers.
Funding for the extra IT position was included in the mayor’s proposal but taken out by the current council. City Chamberlain Richard Marks said the funding was transferred from the payroll line of the department budget to the equipment line.
If the position is added back to the employment line of the budget, the only added cost would be about $20,000 for benefits, which was eliminated when the funding was transferred.
Money for benefits for the position would come from the general fund, but the tax levy would not be affected, Marks said.
Councilor-elect Dale Dowdle (R-Ward 3) said he would consider reinstating the IT position.
“It was well presented to us, and I think we should seriously look at it,” he said.
“It won’t affect the tax levy, and even if it did, we have to consider the return on it.”
Councilor-elect Becky Kasper (D-Ward 5) said she would like to see Brayton get more help.
“Maybe we could move something around so he has what he needs,” she said. “I would like to work together to do something.”
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