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Poughkeepsie Mayor Details Deficit, Proposed Budget

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WAMC, Allison Dunne
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Mayor Rob Rolison and City Administrator Deborah McDonnell

Poughkeepsie’s fund-balance deficit is deeper into the red than city officials thought. Mayor Rob Rolison says an audit report for 2015 delivered Friday adds nearly $2 million more to an outstanding $11 million. Rolison says he is exploring options while his proposed 2017 operating budget is on the table.

The news comes as Rolison’s budget plan for 2017 is before the Democratic-controlled City Council. Rolison, a Republican serving his first year in office, says his $85 million budget proposal is barebones with no layoffs and a 16.5 percent tax increase.

“I say to people when they say to me, ‘well you know, it’s such a large tax increase,’ and I agree with it, and I’m the one that proposed, so I have to answer to it is that, where do you want to pay?” Rolison says. “Do you want to pay in taxation that helps the operation of city government or do you want to pay because we keep adding to the deficit that does not go away, that has to be addressed and the taxpayers of this city are responsible for it.”

He says there is nowhere to cut without axing essential personnel, such as police officers and firefighters. City resident Stanley Robinson says he was concerned how the now roughly $13 million fund-balance deficit coupled with the proposed operating budget would affect homeowners. He believes property owners should look beyond a tax hike.

“Yeah, we can have our property taxes lowered. We can have our school taxes lowered but, if we drive down the City of Poughkeepsie at night and there’s no lighting, that’s not a good thing,” Robinson says. “And, among other things, if we dial 9-1-1 and we don’t get a response, that’s not a good thing so we’ve got to look at the whole big picture of everything.”

Rolison attributes some of the budget difficulties to a glaring absence.

“We have no fund balance. We have no rainy day fund. We have no place to go to make up deficits in the beginning of formulating your budget, so you don’t have to go to taxpayers all the time and ask for more money. If you’ve got a rainy day fund, you can replenish it like most municipalities do. And even forget about staying under the tax cap. That’s what municipalities are doing. They’re finding ways and creative ways to save money. But, also, at the end of the year, when you have a shortfall, what do you do? We have no place to make it up.”

He adds.

“The revenue has not been supporting the overall operations of the city,” says Rolison.

Rolison’s approach is to stabilize the operating budget and then try to address the deficit. He says a 2015 draft audit received November 18 revealed a $1.9 million deficit, adding to the existing $11 million deficit. For the first time, the proposed budget contains a line item allotting $225,000 for deficit reduction. Acknowledging that the amount is small, Rolison says it’s a gesture to show his administration is trying to do something about it.

As for the now $13 million fund-balance deficit, Rolison says the state Financial Restructuring Board has accepted the city into its fold. He is waiting to hear if Poughkeepsie is granted up to $5 million in aid. Rolison says his team also is exploring deficit financing, which would require legislation and approval on the state level.  

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