Council agrees to use fund balance to balance budget

Members of the Common Council followed the lead of Alderman Ron Barone and all agreed verbally at the end of a Finance Committee meeting Thursday night to balance the 2015-2106 budget by appropriating approximately $200,000 of the city’s general fund balance.

“We’ve cut everything we can possibly cut, I think it’s the fairest way to go,” said Barone.

The council has proposed a variety of different cuts to personnel, health insurance, and other lines during several budget meetings over the past weeks. Each proposed change has been recorded by Controller Matt Agresta, who has been able to calculate and report the impact of each cumulative change on the overall tax rate and user fees.

According to Agresta, the use of the fund balance, along with adding in approximately $100,000 in expected revenue from the Greater Amsterdam Volunteer Ambulance Corp, brought the proposed tax rate nearly even with last year’s.

In past years, the city has received revenue from GAVAC, but there is currently no formal agreement in place.

“Our best bet…is to sit down with the GAVAC people and ask them, we need more help,” said Barone.

Alderman Ed Russo expressed concern over counting on the continued revenue. “We don’t have cash in hand,” said Russo.

Barone expressed confidence that a deal could be made. “Do you know how to barter here?” he asked, “you got stuff hanging over them, you know that don’t you?”

Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler said she was working on setting up a meeting with GAVAC, possibly within the next week.

It remains unclear whether the council will be able to act on another idea to utilize the city’s sewer fund balance. State law prohibits the transfer of sewer funds to the general fund. At a special meeting held earlier in the evening, the council unanimously passed a resolution to ask the NY State legislature for permission to make a one-time transfer.

Several minutes after the special meeting was adjourned, City Clerk Susan Alibozek returned to the council chambers and told the council that Mayor Ann Thane said she would not sign the resolution unless she met with the council to negotiate on budget items first, eliciting angry responses from some of the council members.

Russo said, “I’m not going to meet with her because I got threatened today by her and I’m not going to put up with her political baloney that she’s putting out there. I’m tired of it.”

Later, Thane said she had contacted Russo during the day and told him she would sign the resolution if she could work out a compromise with the council to restore some of the proposed budget cuts.

Thane faulted the council for making cuts to the budget without considering the impact on operations or employee morale.

“You can’t cut beyond bone or you will kill the patient,” said Thane. She called on the council to establish goals and a vision for the city to guide their decisions.

According to the city charter, the mayor has 15 days to either sign or veto the resolution. If the resolution is neither signed or vetoed, then the resolution is approved by default. That time frame would extend past the June 1 deadline for the council to vote on their proposed budget changes.

After the meeting, Agresta held to his position that the city should not appropriate the general fund balance, due to its potential impact on the city’s credit rating, as well as because the exact, current fund balance is still not known.

“You’re basing your estimate of your fund balance based on data from two years ago,” said Agresta. “I wouldn’t be comfortable giving a [current] estimate off of incomplete figures.”

The latest official figures for both the general fund and sewer fund balances are contained in the 2012-2013 Annual Update Document, which lists the general fund balance at the end of 2013 as $612,305 and the sewer fund balance as $1,142,946.

Agresta said his next step is to compile all the changes the council has requested so far for their review. The council will hold a special meeting on Friday, May 29th to approve their version of the budget, after which the mayor can submit line item vetoes or “objections” which can be overridden with a two-thirds majority vote by the council. According to Hatzenbuhler, who is the chair of the Finance Committee, there are no further budget review meetings scheduled.

Tim Becker

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