Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read released his proposed 2020 budget on Monday, saying the plan stays below the tax cap and lowers property taxes.
The mayor’s budget must be submitted to the common council by October 1st for the council to consider and revise.
The $60 million spending plan projects $23.9 million in General Fund revenue and $23.5 million in General Fund expenses, resulting in a $400,000 surplus.
It allows for road construction and repaving projects to continue. Mayor Read says it also lowers the property tax rate. “The budget I’m releasing generates an appropriate budget surplus while continues our increased road and infrastructure spending. The city is continuing to reverse the steady decline in our fund balance that resulted from years of deficit spending. We’re also using the increased tax base arising from new developments and a modest recovery in property values to lower the property tax rate for our residents. The property tax rate per $1000 of property value has now fallen to be lower than the first budget I proposed back in 2017.”
The first-term Democrat says common councilors have embraced a five- and 10-year budget planning process that he instituted when he first took office. “While we certainly have a lot of work to do to ensure that the city is on a firmer financial ground these steps from 2017 through the 2020 budget demonstrate that the city can actually moderate spending, create growth, repair a depleted fund balance, take care of the core mission and lower taxes at the same time.”
Ward 6 Democrat Jeff Moore, the council’s acting budget officer, said their goal is to remain under the state-mandated tax cap. “I don’t anticipate any great changes but we are going to look to see if we can identify any further improvements in the budget to save even a little bit additional money. So we’re going to be looking at everything very carefully to identify efficiencies.”
Plattsburgh has been designated by the state as fiscally stressed. Mayor Read is optimistic that the ranking will change based on the success of their longer term budget planning process. “The fiscally stressed measure always looks about a year back so it takes a little bit of time for the past data to result in positive changes. If you recall last year when we had that designation at the time that designation came out we were the second highest stressed city in the state. But I’m hopeful that we’re more likely to improve and certainly if we can produce the results in this budget, and we have been able to produce the results to the previous budgets as well, I predict that that score should improve substantially once that data starts to reflect what we’re doing.”
When Mayor Read took office the city’s fund balance was nearly depleted. Read, an economist by trade, says restoring it is particularly important as a cushion against a potential recession. “Now about a third of economists believe that a recession in 2021 is imminent. I don’t want to go into that with a zero fund balance. I personally have always thought that about a 10 to 20 percent fund balance is more appropriate primarily because our health care system for the city is self-insured. And if you look at fund balances from other self-insured cities they are closer to the 20 percent level rather than the 5 or 10 percent level. I’ve said to the council before that I think that’d be more prudent and be giving us a much more comfortable cushion to go into a situation like we saw in 2008 recession.”
Councilor Moore agrees. “When I was mayor in Champlain we went through the Great Recession and I can tell you the expenses go way up and the revenues go down so we do need to be prepared.”
A public hearing on the proposed Plattsburgh budget will be held August 30th at 11 a.m. at City Hall.