The Common Council has scheduled a special meeting for 6:30 p.m. Friday to consider approving a tentative 2011-12 budget that would remove the city’s 3 percent cap on water rate increases and require the city’s retirees to start paying 10 percent of the cost of their health insurance.
The council considered both issues Tuesday night but voted against approving Mayor Ann Thane’s budget proposal, punting the issue until Friday.
Thane has proposed the changes to help fill a $700,000 gap in the city’s approximately $25 million budget plan.
City officials said Amsterdam has about 150 retired employees receiving free health insurance. The former employees retired before the city’s labor agreements began requiring employees to contribute toward the cost of the their health insurance. The city’s labor agreements now also specify how much new retirees must pay towards their insurance, but are silent as to the fate of people who retired before the late 1990s, said city Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis.
DeCusatis has advised the council that municipal law does not require the city to hold another referendum to remove the cap on water fees, such as the referendum used to put the cap in place originally. He said the cap can be changed through a local law.
Several retired city employees asked the council Tuesday night not to begin requiring them to contribute 10 percent towards their health insurance, a move expected to free up about $200,000 in revenue for the city.
But Thane said the council should approve the revenue boosting moves.
“The administrative staff has presented these ideas that we feel are fiscally responsible and viable and I haven’t heard anything as of yet that the members of the council could suggest that are viable. There has been some suggestion that there could be wage freezes, well that’s not so. We would have to negotiate wage freezes,” she said.
The city is running out of time to adopt a permanent budget. DeCusatis said in order to get tax bills out on time the budget must be adopted by June 1. He said without a budget in place by then, the city could legally operate until July 1, but after that it is unclear how the city would legally pay its bills or how long the city’s reserves would last without tax revenues coming in.
Amsterdam 4th Ward Councilman William Wills said he’ll support removing the cap on water fees and requiring the retirees to pay health insurance premiums unless a better idea is presented. He said he’s proposed the city unilaterally freeze the wages of its employees with the promise of paying the raises later when fiscal times are better, but he admits that would probably require authorization from the state Legislature.