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Plattsburgh Mayor Submits Budget Proposal

Plattsburgh City Hall
WAMC Photo
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Plattsburgh City Hall

The mayor of Plattsburgh has released his 2017 budget proposal.  While the initial outline is over a million dollars in the red, city leaders say they’re optimistic they can bring the fiscal plan in line with the state tax cap.
The city charter requires the mayor of Plattsburgh to submit his budget by October 8th.  Mayor James Calnon has presented the city council a summary of departmental requests, with a deficit of $1.5 million that city councilors must now survey and make adjustments to. The mayor says this outline approach is the same method that was used to craft last year’s budget.   “This year I took the summation of all the departmental requests and I told them, listen, ask for the things that you want, not necessarily what you need. And that you can come in and really talk about why you think it's important to add a position or buy a piece of equipment. Rather than having me haul them all in one at a time, make some changes then go to the council and haul the department heads back in again, have them make the same pitches. It's just not necessary. So the budget I projected with the tax increase at exactly the tax cap, but noted that it was still out of balance. But I know that all seven of us are committed to really getting an adequate budget done.”

Ward 5 Democrat Becky Kasper is the city council’s budget officer.  She calls the document from the mayor more of a budget outline and she prefers the format.  “What the mayor is giving us is actually, it’s not the mayor's budget, it's the city budget. So what you're looking at with the budget right now it’s not what the mayor wants. What it is is all those requests and all of those forecasts by the rest of the departments. And it's up to us because it is our primary responsibility to be stewards of the budget to go through with them and really talk with them and say: OK do we really need this next year or can we do this and trying to find a way to ensure that we have the services and the personnel to carry out those services and at the same time just get a very tighter rein on the budget itself.”

Both Kasper and Calnon expressed cautious optimism they will be able to keep the budget under the 1.1 percent tax cap.  City leaders are also working with the state comptroller on the city’s fund balance. Kasper wrote a new policy that will stabilize that account.   “Right now we have about 3.7 percent of a fund balance. And so we created the fund policy so that we could use it as a guideline for us as we're making decisions as we're prepping the budget. And actually tomorrow night during the work session that's exactly what we're going to do. We're going to look at the fund balance policy and try to think about a reasonable way of attaining that minimum 5 percent over a period of time.”

Kasper says the council’s intention in passing the fund balance policy was a means to creating a long-term budget plan.  SUNY Plattsburgh Professor of Economics and Finance Colin Read, who is challenging Calnon for mayor, says long-term budget planning for the city is essential.   “Long term planning first of all will give us discipline from year to year to make sure that the budget is a true statement of the long term vision of the city.  It also gives reassurances to the residents of the city. Right now if you live on the south end they've been hopeful to have some of their water mains repaired and if you live in some of the bad road areas like towards South Peru you're hoping to have your roads repaired. So people really need to know that there's some sort of plan to address this and that each year we're simply not going to kick the can further and further down the road, figuratively speaking, for the road building or for the water main building or even for the budget deficit as a whole. We can't be leaving these bills to our kids to pay for operating expenses we’re incurring today.”

A public hearing on the budget plan is scheduled for October 20th at 5 p.m. at City Hall.