Council quietly approves budget

In a 3-2 vote, the Common Council on Monday approved a $9.9 million city budget for 2009, but withou

In a 3-2 vote, the Common Council on Monday approved a $9.9 million city budget for 2009, but without discussion.

The budget raises the city’s property tax rate 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation from $15.53 per $1,000 $15.98, a 2.9 percent increase.

Councilman-at-Large Bryan Marcucci and 3rd Ward Councilman Brett Preston voted no to the budget but offered no amendments to change it or arguments against it during the council session. No member of the council commented on the budget during the public meeting. Members of the public also did not comment on the budget at the public hearing last month.

“I already was aware it would be a 3-to-2 vote, having said that I knew in advance it would be approved. That’s why I did not [offer any amendments],” Preston said. “I didn’t feel like my amendments would have gotten any support.”

Prior to the meeting Preston said he was against pay raises for the Common Council and Mayor Sarah Slingerland and thought it was irresponsible for the city to raise property taxes during an economic recession.

Marcucci said he had planned to meet with someone with more budget expertise before the meeting and offer suggestions to change the budget but wasn’t able to set up the meeting. He said he will offer more changes to the budget next year.

“I’ve never done a budget and I see all of those numbers and I don’t know what you can take off and what you can’t. You could sit here for 8 or 10 years discussing [cuts] not knowing if you can [legally make the cuts],” Marcucci said. “Now that I’m a little more familiar with what’s going on, next year will be different.”

Among major municipal taxing jurisdictions in Fulton County, Johnstown’s budget contains the largest percentage tax increase proposed. The city of Gloversville has proposed using $822,000 of its surplus to eliminate a tax increase and Fulton County whittled its budget down to nearly a zero percent tax increase, eliminating raises for supervisors in 2009.

Johnstown’s tentative city budget would raise the annual salary for Common Council members from $4,264 to $4,413 and the mayor’s salary from $12,793 to $13,241.

First Ward Councilwoman Cynthia Lakata, 2nd Ward Councilman Christopher Foss and 4th Ward Councilwoman Kay Cole each voted in favor of the budget. Foss said he would have supported an amendment to eliminate the raises for the council if another council member had made that proposal, but not for the mayor who he said he thinks is paid too little.

“I wouldn’t have had a problem eliminating the salary increase for council members, but the salary increase for all of the council combined is [only about] $700 out of a $9.9 million budget. It might have been symbolic,” Foss said.

Lakata said she supported the budget. She said she speaks to her constituents one-on-one when they ask her questions and all of her questions about the budget were answered during a Sept. 29 budget workshop with the city’s department heads.

Slingerland said she encourages open debate about important issues on the council, but ultimately it is up to each member of the council to speak as he or she chooses.

“I had a sense there was were some questions that they had and some negative feelings, but to get specific you’d have to ask them,” Slingerland said. “I respect the council’s judgment and it’s not my job to question what a council person does as an elected official.”

Under the 2009 budget the city’s total property tax levy will increase 16 percent to $3.7 million, up from $3.2 million in 2008. Much of the property levy increase was absorbed by 25 percent of the property value of the Wal-Mart distribution center coming onto the city’s tax rolls as well as the Fage U.S.A. Yogurt plant.

City Spending increased by $595,000, 4.5 percent, from 2008’s budget. Slingerland identified union contract-mandated salary increases and expected higher fuel prices as major cost drivers in the budget and expected declines in sales tax collection and possibly state aid among other financial problems facing the city.

Categories: Schenectady County

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