© 2023
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Budget Passes Under Cap Despite Last Minute Lawsuit

The city of Plattsburgh Common Council passed a $21 million general fund budget last night.  City officials were able to keep the spending plan under the state mandated tax cap and avoid layoffs despite a last-minute lawsuit that forced councilors to find new cuts.
Proceedings began with a work session in which two city residents voiced opposition to a proposal on the agenda that would allow the city to exceed the state mandated tax cap.  Resident Jeff Moore believed councilors should not even vote on the idea.   “The reason that in New York State, that they do have a tax cap, is because we’re the highest taxed property-wise in the country and this is something to put the brakes on.  We need to balance the budget. We need to pick priorities. It’s wrong at this time.  I believe the budget is coming out without an increase over the tax limit or the cap. We shouldn’t be making up a way out before we even need one.”

Mayor James Calnon explained the proposal was precautionary in nature.  “In order for us to actually pass a budget that exceeded the cap, which was a possibility that we had to consider,  we have to do a local law that requires a super-majority. They have to be introduced at least 7 days in advance and a public hearing must be held.  So we had to do it in order to have the authority to exceed the cap if we thought it was necessary. The really good news is that I expect that this will also be voted down resoundingly because we don’t believe we need it.”

The tax cap proposal was defeated as city officials found it unneeded.

The possibility of going over the cap occurred after the Plattsburgh City Retirees Association filed suit against the city challenging new insurance coverage that went into effect on January 1st.   In October, the council approved switching from its self-funded health care insurance benefit program for Medicare-eligible retirees to an Humana-administrated system to save $500,000.  On January 4th a restraining order was issued. It forced city officials to find a half-million dollars in new cuts by the budget deadline of January 14th.

Mayor Pro-Tem Becky Kasper, a Democrat from Ward 5, is the city council’s budget officer. She says they didn’t give up until they squeezed every penny and found items that could be cut without seriously impacting services or personnel.   “A lot of things kept mounting as problems. And then given the Humana decision that’s still in the courts, the temporary restraining order, trying to budget in a worst-case scenario that was tough.  There’s some non-renewal of contracts and there’s the not filling of positions that are vacant. You can do that for a while but you can’t do that forever because that has an impact on services. So it’s not that major layoffs took place, but sooner or later those positions are going to have to be filled.  It’s tight.  This is not a free and easy budget. No one should think that.  It’s a tight budget.”

City councilors passed the budget unanimously.   “Motion to adopt the Common Council proposed 2016 budget last revised on January 12, 2016.”
Ward 6 Democrat Joshua Kretser: “I’d like to make a motion to waive the reading.”
Mayor Calnon: Discussion?
Ward 1 Democrat Rachelle Armstrong:  “Hurray.”
Ward 6 Democrat Becky Kasper:  “Thank God.”
Mayor: “Roll Call.”
Councilor Armstrong?  “Yes.”
Councilor Kelly?  “Yes.”
Councilor Dowdle?  “Yes.”
Councilor Kasper?   “Yes.”
Councilor Kretser:  “Yes.”

Mayor Calnon says the final budget is not what was wanted but is workable.   “It could have been a lot worse.  When I sat down with the department heads just a week or so ago I said if we don’t find money somewhere else it’s 4 jobs in each one of your departments. And of course that’s a very strong motivation.  There are some things that we may have kicked down the road a little bit. But we wanted to keep the human cost as low as possible.  No one at this point is slated to actually lose their job.  We have postponed at least hiring into some vacancies. We’ll have to see how that goes over the course of the next several months.”

The next hearing on the petition challenging the change in health insurance is scheduled for January 21st.

Related Content