PLATTSBURGH — City of Plattsburgh councilors are honing in on a final budget plan that will lower a projected tax increase slightly but give the city a decent fund balance.
"I really would like to make this work," Common Council Budget Officer and Councilor Michael Kelly (D-Ward 2) said at Thursday's lengthy budget hearing.
Mayor Colin Read submitted his proposed 2018 budget to the council on July 31, and members began getting it in shape soon afterwards.
The mayor's plan calls for a 4.74 percent increase in the tax levy and a $146,013 fund balance.
About $1.2 million has been eliminated from 2017 levels, and the council has been looking for about $500,000 more in cuts in order to increase the fund balance and drop the tax increase a bit.
The city's state-mandated tax-levy cap for 2018 is 2.85 percent.
The council agreed to eliminate four departments — Engineering, Recreation, Human Resources and Information Technology — in a move earlier this summer estimated to save nearly $1 million.
Department heads were also tasked with coming up with budget cuts, which they did.
City Chamberlain Richard Marks said departments were able to reduce purchases by about 5 percent city-wide.
Police Chief Ken Parkinson said he would purchase only one new police vehicle next year instead of the two he wanted.
"We will find a way," he told councilors.
The council is also considering waiting to obtain a bond for road work on Maine Road until next year, which could save about $229,000 for the 2018 budget.
In all, if no other changes are made, the council is looking at a budget that will feature a 4.42 tax-levy increase that would produce a fund balance of $505,000.
"I think that is doable," Kelly said.
The mayor agreed.
"I think the taxpayers, when they recognize how much work the council did with radical and creative thinking, will think they did a good job with this budget," Read said.
Also under discussion is cutting council members' pay by 15 percent, which would amount to $1,500 for each of the six councilors, who are paid $10,000 per year.
Councilor Becky Kasper (D-Ward 5) said the council ought hold off on that for many reasons.
Kasper said the salary for serving on the council is already low, and if it is cut, it will be difficult to get it back in the future.
Such low pay could wind up preventing people from seeking office, including mayoral candidates, in the future, she said.
SERVING ISN'T FREE
The mayor's salary is about $74,000 per year, but it is not slated for a cut.
"The mayor's salary is not commensurate with the job," Kasper said.
"We don't get mid-level professionals willing to give up their careers to run for mayor; we've created sort of a vacuum."
Kasper also said that serving on the council is not free.
"We have to pay money to run for this, and we spend a lot of time doing this," she said.
"If we lower the salary for the council, we are treating the council as gentlemanly public servants with a sort of elitism."
Kasper said she thinks the public is willing to invest in council pay in order to ensure a more diverse field of candidates, which is often filled with retirees.
"We are not slackers. We do the job, and we spend a lot time doing it," she said.
"I am concerned that by lowering the salary we are creating a situation where only people of means will be able to serve."
'WE SHOULD, TOO'
Kelly said he understood Kasper's point but still supported the council pay cut.
"We asked every department to sacrifice, and I think we should, too," Kelly said.
The council is planning on adopting a final spending plan on Sept. 14.
Members will continue to consider changes until then.
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