I presented this to Council President Jim Noble & Finance Committee Chairman Charlie Landi:
November 1, 2011
RE: Mayor’s Proposed 2012 Budget
Dear President Noble & Chairman Landi,
As you know, the City of Kingston’s finances are in a fragile state. The uncertainty of the economy, the increases in costs which are out of our control, and of course the 2% tax cap puts a strain on how our City operates. Our taxpayers can no longer sustain the costs that have been passed along to them any longer and it is beginning to show by the erosion in our property values and business opportunities. The Mayor is proposing to take over $1.2 million from our City’s Fund Balance (nearly half) which is a risky move, especially when you consider the unpaid items that we still have to deal with before the end of 2011 (Kings Inn Lawsuits, Pike Plan cost overruns, Tax assessment settlement refunds of over $250,000 for Stony Run & Holiday Inn, and others). Raiding our fund balance will put us at risk to operate below the recommended 5% of New York’s guidelines. This will surely affect our bond rating which is not a good idea. This year we have had to bond for repairs to Washington Avenue, we’ve bonded $100,000 for Tax Certiorari Claims (and now our Assessor is asking for another $175,000), we bond for Police Cars and DPW equipment that may not last as long as the payments. A lower Bond Rating will increase the costs just to borrow for the things we should not be borrowing for in the first place, let alone the major infrastructure improvements which are necessary and long overdue. Our role as the Common Council is protect the people we represent, and allowing this to happen is not in their best interest. We must look at the long term effect on what this budget will do to the City of Kingston’s finances. I am making the following recommendations to the 2012 Budget in order to save wherever we can. Thank you.
City of Kingston Common Council Minority Leader
1st Ward Alderman
2012 City of Kingston Budget Amendments
Submitted by Common Council Minority Leader – Andi Turco-Levin
November 1, 2011
1. Combine the Economic Development and Community Development Offices. We can save by eliminating the Director’s position and combining the efforts of this office with Community Development. Recent accomplishments of this office have been more focused on grant writing as opposed to business opportunities. It is time to re-focus and streamline. Savings could be as much as $150,000.
2. It is time to look at the cost of the City’s Annual Audit budget line. It is also prudent for the Common Council to request that this go out for bid to encourage other accounting firms to offer proposals for our business. Besides, a fresh set of eyes can find many things when going through the finances. There could also be savings or us with competitive bids, perhaps by $10,000.
3. Eliminate the position of the Urban Cultural Parks Coordinator. This office has produced very little for the cost to the taxpayer. The revenues generated from the gift shop are projected as a dismal $100. The Visitor’s Center can be staffed by volunteers on the weekends or we can close it, or we could make arrangements with either a local business group or Artist Associations to work together. The press releases can be generated through the City Clerk’s office. With the move towards social media and electronic notices it will help fill the gap. Savings will be $70,000.
4. Review all leases the City of Kingston holds and begin to review new opportunities. This will include entering into agreements for local dining establishments who currently take up City sidewalks. Implementing a Sidewalk Dining Permit. Not only will it help create revenue, it may encourage new restaurants with new opportunities to succeed.
5. I realize how much the City benefits from the Federal and State dollars that come to us through our Citibus program. However, something must be done to increase ridership and also review the routes that are in place now. Every bit of feedback that I have received from riders has been that the routes and the schedules are not user-friendly. I still stand by the recommendation that we should strongly consider a merge with Ulster County Area Transport in order for our residents to benefit from this service. (not something for this year’s budget I suppose) However, the City could benefit from advertising sales. There are advertising agencies that can put together proposals to coordinate everything with the City sharing some of the revenue. Something is better than nothing.
6. Eliminate the Deputy Assessor OR eliminate the Consultant (GAR). The poor performance of this office has cost the City taxpayer a lot of money. With the hiring of an actual appraiser as the new City Assessor perhaps this office will finally get on track. If the Assessor is qualified there is no reason for us to have such a large department for a City this size. Ultimately it would be wise to consider shared services for this on either the County level or with the Town of Ulster.
7. The Sewer Rates, although a pay for service fee is scheduled to increase by nearly 15% (the 2011 increase was 6%) and the Common Council needs to be aware that these increases also add to the financial burden our property owners have to bear. The overtime line at the Waste Treatment Plant has been commented on year after year, yet I must ask the question. If it is scheduled OT, how is there a 3 hour callback mandate each time? I concur that CAMO plays a valuable role in the operations of our Treatment Plant and believe that they need to remain in place. We need only one Senior Operator at that Plant.
In Summary, we must do a better job at looking at how business is done. I have other items which I will be submitting to you in the upcoming weeks. I am looking forward to asking our Department representatives to come before the Finance Committee to shed light on how they can work with us to find new and creative ways to help us balance this budget. Coming up with new and creative ways to improve our revenue projections, finding solutions with public/private partnerships, and keeping an open mind to allow change is how we can accomplish this task. In the future we may have to re-visit how we collect our garbage to control our labor costs and tipping fees. As long as the Common Council communicates to the public their intentions and encourages the Public’s input we could actually find ourselves moving in a positive direction.