David C. Nolan (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)

Water costs, help for non-profits among residents concerns

Published Oct 12, 2017 at 4:10pm

The Common Council heard from several residents Wednesday at its public hearing on the proposed 2018 budget, and before that held work sessions on the departmental budgets for the law office, parks and recreation and the Treasurer’s Office.

Three residents spoke at the hearing about the administration’s plan, which includes an increase in spending, from $42,498,947 this year to $43,180,894. That’s an increase of $681,947.

First David Halpin, 204 1/2 Elm St., noted several aspects of the budget about which he wanted more information. He noted that the city is budgeting $452,000 in overtime wages. “That’s a lot of money,” he said. Also, he cited the city’s increase in water rates for a second year in row, though councilors later noted that it is to cover costs associated with several major system upgrades. He also commented on what he felt were significant costs associated with worker’s compensation costs and rising utility and fuel line items.

Bobby O’Brien of Martin Drive noted that the city’s contributions to non-profits are all staying the same except for the Humane Society of Rome, which would get an increase from $8,500 to $14,000. That reflects an increase in the number of dogs sent to the Society from the city’s Animal Control Department, as the contract includes an amount per dog, the mayor has noted. O’Brien suggested considering cuts elsewhere to add more to these contributions.

“We need to be an affordable alternative,” said Rob Tracy, 213 W. Oak St., noting that he speaks at the hearing each year to urge the city to be a competitive option for attracting residents and businesses. The key, he said, is to abide by the state’s tax cap limit and to achieve at least a zero tax rate change or even a cut. He praised the administration for achieving that zero tax rate change.

The tax rates will be the same as they are this year, under the mayor’s plan. The general rate would remain $13.31 per $1,000 in assessed value. The inside district’s combined rate would remain $20.24 per thousand.

Before the meeting, the council reviewed several departmental budgets, as it does at work sessions leading up to the budget vote. The vote this year is expected to come at the council’s Oct. 25 meeting.

The law office’s budget is set to go up from $410,568 to $432,149. The increases come mainly as about $20,000 more in salaries, though Councilor Kimberly A. Rogers, R-3, noted that despite talks this time last year about adding personnel in the office that hasn’t happened. While there has been talk of adding a part-time attorney, “it’s not in the plan at this time,” said Corporation Counsel Gerard Feeney.

There was discussion about the annual amount the administration sets aside for potential legal actions against the city, but Feeney and Treasurer David C. Nolan cautioned the council against cuts there because one large lawsuit could put the city in dangerous territory financially. One situation facing the city is the leaking that shut down the soon-to-open ultraviolet water filtration system at the water plant last November, which is still not operational. That situation is under review and likely to be a court battle between parties involved in the contract work.

The Parks and Recreation Department’s budget would go from $783,939 this year to $840,216 next year. Salaries is set to increase by about $32,000 to $550,167, mostly because the department is planning to increase its minimum wage. The city is exempt from paying the standard minimum wage, and Parks Director James Korpella said this summer it hurt the city because there were fewer applicants willing to take the wages offered for park attendants. Nolan also noted that the 2017 wage budget was not realistic for the department’s needs regarding summer employees. The department’s budget next year also includes funds for staffing at the new navigation center at Harbor Way, which will be staffed during the state canal boating season 12 hours a day.

Nolan’s own department was also reviewed. His budget is set to go up about $18,000 to $654,864. The increases are in large part due to salaries and overtime, which are set to go up by $12,000 and $4,500, respectively.