Councilors eye codes, parks spending

Published Oct 11, 2018 at 4:00pm

The Common Council met for a marathon work session last night, speaking with administration officials and city contractors about their proposed 2019 budgets before gaveling into its regularly scheduled meeting.

Councilors first met with Chief Codes Enforcement Officer Mark Domenico, whose budget called for over $150,000 more in allocations than it did last year.

The bulk of this increase falls under the salaries and wages line item. Domenico attributed the rise to the two percent wage increase negotiated with civil service unions, as well as the creation of a second assistant building inspector position.

The position, he told councilors, would be needed next year to handle the large amount of development projects slated for Rome, most notably under the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative. Domenico said that he did not yet have a candidate in mind, and that he would decide qualifications for the position before seeking applicants.

Nearly the rest of the Codes budget increase is allocated for building demolition and related expenses — while the 2018 budget allocated $20,000, next year’s calls for $100,000. Domenico said that the requested amount would cover “probably five buildings,” and that historically, the department has been allocated $100,000 for the demolition line item.

“It was just over the last few years that ... we kept getting whittled down to $20,000,” the Codes chief said.

Councilors then met with Parks and Recreation Director Jim Korpela, whose department’s budget is proposed to go from $840,216 this year to $676,968 in 2019, though actual spending for this year is estimated to be just $781,058. That the actual
spending came in much lower than the budgeted amount is attributed to the reassignment of three full-time positions to another code within the budget, Korpela noted.

The department’s budget for municipal pools is projected to dip — from $133,147 this year to $128,473.

The budget for Kennedy Area will see a similar decrease, from $222,540 in 2018 to $220,140.

Councilors then sat with representatives from M. A. Polce Consulting, the information technology firm that contracts with the city.

The IT budget for 2019 calls for two new data backup systems for Rome, one in City Hall and another for the Police Department. “It’s old, it’s antiquated, and it’s not secure,” the consultants said of the city’s current backup system.

“For security reasons, they’re still separated out. We can’t have them on the same backup system,” the consultants explained to councilors. The Police Department will get a $30,000 Barracuda Backup 790 system, and City Hall will receive a $20,000 Barracuda 690.

Also recommended by the tech consultants were the purchases of a $17,000 anti-virus upgrade, a $17,000 Barracuda message archiver with a three year licensing agreement, and and $11,000 Informacast communication system, to be used internally by city employees in the event of an emergency.

Councilors expressed interest in a $2,500 video phone budgeted by the firm, to be used at the Fire Department headquarters on Black River Boulevard. As it is, firefighters at the front desk can’t see the who is at the door before “buzzing” them in. The IT consultants explained a live video feed of the door to the front desk would solve this issue and enhance security at the firehouse.

In regular session, the council voted to approve a Memorandum of Understanding between the Police Department and Eastern Air Defense Sector (EADS). The document extends a prior agreement for Rome police to provide support in special or emergency scenarios at EADS, such as an active shooter or a visiting dignitary.

For their part, EADS will make available to Rome police “domestic operations support” through “training and resources.” RPD will also be granted use of EADS’s “firearms training simulator.”

Councilors also approved the renewal of an agreement with First Presbyterian Church on West Court Street. The church will allow Police Department and City Court employees to park in its lot. In exchange, the city will pay for snow removal on the lot for up to $2,500, and will split the cost of snow removal totaling more than $3,500 with the church.

Noting that he was on the church’s board of trustees, Councilor A. Robert Tracy, R-7, recused himself from the vote.

Also passed by the council last night:

  • A resolution reappointing Stephan Granacki to the Board of Assessment Review (BAR), the body tasked with settling assessment disputes between property owners and the city. The BAR is comprised of three to five residents who serve for five-year terms and “who have at least a general knowledge of property values in the community,” according to the city’s website.
  • A resolution accepting a $2,000 donation from the state Canal Corporation to cover costs related to last weekend’s Locktoberfest. Councilor John B. Mortise, R-2, thanked city Planning Aide Makenzi Enos for her work in coordinating the event, and thanked the Canal Corporation for the donation.
  • An ordinance authorizing the closure of the one-way portion of North Washington street, adjacent to City Hall’s Griffo Green, on Oct. 26 from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. to make space for food vendors in conjunction with a Halloween event.

In their meeting on Oct. 24, councilors will vote on Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo’s proposed 2019 budget. If they don’t pass anything that night, the mayor’s budget takes effect automatically.

The seven-member body has been in work sessions with department heads for the last week, discussing their budget proposals and looking to tighten the city’s belt, if possible. Councilors will meet with Corporation Counsel and Treasury officials next Wednesday to discuss their relatively lightweight budget requests.

Under Rome’s strong mayoral system, the Common Council is limited in how it can make changes to the proposed budget.

Councillors are empowered to cut discretionary spending, and can increase various line items, provided this doesn’t increase the overall budget. However, the mayor’s Board of Estimate and Contract can vote to redistribute those funds as soon as the budget takes effect on January 1.

Finally, the Common Council alone is empowered to put the city into debt for capital improvement projects, and as such, could eliminate items from the mayor’s capital spending plan if it voted to do so.