Thane urges council to consider budget big picture

After presenting her office’s budget requests at a Budget Workshop meeting held by the Common Council on Saturday morning, Mayor Ann Thane asked the council to look at the biggest budget items first, before going “line by line” through the various department heads’ requests.

After pointing out that her office’s request amounted to .002% of the budget, Thane said, “The real drivers in this budget I had identified to you. It is health care, it is insurances.”

In a statement submitted along with her proposed budget at the beginning of the month, Thane cited increases in retirement and health insurance costs totaling approximately $900,000.

“Removing critical finances from the departments is not really tackling what the problem is with the budget. It perpetuates a myth that the departments are functioning in a way that is extravagant. Which is a myth. It is not the operational requests that are driving this budget increase. It’s things that are outside of our control,” said Thane. “Cutting me by a hundred bucks here or a someone else by thousand dollars there is not going to get you where you need to go.”

Thane asked if the council had asked Controller Matt Agresta what the impact on the budget would be if the $660,000 in projected revenues for the proposed city ambulance service were removed from the budget.

Agresta quoted a projected property tax increase that reflected a scenario with no city ambulance service. He included a decrease of $660,000 in revenue as well as the decrease in expenses associated with operating the service which included a $15,000 contractual line for supplies and $80,000 for additional staffing costs to keep a seven person crew on at the Fire Department at all times. Later, at the request of Alderman Ron Barone, Agresta also figured in approximately $100,000 in revenue that the city would normally receive from GAVAC, the current primary provider of ambulance service in the city. Considering all those factors, Agresta said the property tax rate would increase by 10.7%. Agresta said the budget in that scenario would be approximately $481,000 short of staying under NY State’s 2% tax cap requirement.

Thane warned that in order to stay under the NY State tax cap, that the council would have to consider “draconian” cuts to critical services and operations.

“So either you’re going to decide something or not, but it’s time sensitive. So I would request that you take important matters first before doing this ‘fine tooth comb’ because it is such a timely issue,” said Thane.

“Mayor, I don’t disagree with you,” said Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler. “I would like to conduct the budget sessions they way we laid it out.”

Haztenbuhler added that the council would be hearing from Fire Chief Michael Whitty at a committee meeting on Tuesday to hear more details of his proposal to have the Fire Department run the city’s ambulance service. Barone also said he hoped to schedule a meeting with the city’s insurance providers in May to discuss potential cost savings.

Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of Anthem Websites Inc. which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.