Council reviews public works, water and sewer budgets
ONEIDA — On Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 7 and 8, the Oneida Common Council reviewed the proposed 2023 department budget for the Department of Public Works (DPW), water, sewer, and more.
So far, the council has decided to leave the DPW budget mostly the same, with one possible change.
City Engineer Jeff Rowe reported that two city traffic control light boxes — one located at Broad Street and Farrier Avenue, the other at West Elm and Broad streets — need replacing, costing $19,500 for the pair. The council has considered whether these boxes need replacing just yet.
They have proposed approaching the traffic control board to request they conduct a traffic study to see if there are any traffic lights in the city that can be removed. If so, this may free up a newly replaced control box to be used elsewhere. It’s possible the state may have valuable traffic data, too. In addition, what exactly may be included in Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) funding, should a downtown street-improvement project be granted, is not yet clear. Items like traffic light control boxes may be on the docket and thus freed up from city funds if they need replacing, councilors said.
Oneida Mayor Helen Acker has reported in her budget address that the Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) project is “coming along nicely and a bit ahead of schedule.” She anticipated that the project would be completed next year.
This would be good news for several reasons when it comes to the budget, officials explained. The $48 million improvement project will open the WWTP’s capacity for more processing and in turn, more revenue.
“The biggest expense is your debt service,” Oneida City Comptroller Lee Ann Wells explained of the 2023 sewer budget. “It’s over 2 million dollars for 2023. So until we have additional revenue coming in from the plant, your debt service is going to go up next year for 2024. So we’re hoping 2023 is the worst case scenario” and that revenues will offset this trend as the plant can take on more work.
In addition, as progress continues at the WWTP, payments to Madison County for a biosolid disposal agreement are expected to decrease. The agreement is that the city may dispose of its biosolids at the Madison County landfill for free if the city’s WWTP can accept Madison County landfill’s leachate. After a WWTP upset in 2021, the city needed to pay the county to dispose of a percentage of its biosolids to reflect the amount of leachate it was able to accept.
According to the city engineer, the agreement will cost the city $200,000 in 2022. In 2023, that’s expected to be only $35,000.
“We’ve been able to increase the amount of leachate that we accept,” Rowe explained.
The water fund balance is projected to be at 91.04% in the 2023 budget. Officials have stated that this is a good place to be.
While there’s less stress on cutting expenses and raising revenues, there was one budget item that may be getting evaluation: postage.
Water Superintendent Arthur Smolinski said that the water department sends out nearly 20,000 mailings a year, including bills and other notices. Something the public may not be aware of is the ability to receive their bills electronically, which would save on postage. Officials said they will check the steps needed to choose this option and may try to get more people to sign up for electronic billing soon.
People who get more than one bill may also be able to combine them into a single account balance.
With the council’s budget adjustments thus far, the projected 2023 fund balance as a percentage of the budget would be 21.68%, according to Wells. She’d still like to see that number increased for financial security.
Councilors are at odds and have not yet nailed down what a tax increase this year may look like.
Ward 2 Councilor Steve Laureti has been a vocal opponent of raising taxes and would instead like to cut as much as possible before doing so. While an increase seems all but inevitable this year, other councilors have said there may be ways to keep the increase as small as possible, Laureti said.
He proposed cutting a side-by-side vehicle for the Parks and Rec Department — which would cost about $15,000, using approximately $20,000 gained from selling a dump truck. He proposes just selling the dump truck, along with cutting flower pots installed and maintained around the city (saving around $10,000).
“We’re in this predicament. There are things that we can hold off for a year,” Laureti said.
The rest of the council has not decided whether they are in agreement with Laureti’s proposals or not. However, the council did decide to cut Parks and Rec’s request for a dump trailer, which would save about $10,000.
With some expected absences in upcoming budget discussion meetings, the council will be utilizing email for discussion before eventually bringing forth their decisions in person, Simchik told the Sentinel.
“Let’s take the rest of the week and try and get creative. See if we can come up with a hundred grand somehow,” Laureti said.
The council took a moment to review an allotment of $1,000 for “animal control other than dogs.” Last year, the $1,000 went to the Community Cats Committee for their Trap/Neuter/Return program.
While it seems that funding will stay in the budget, whether it will be used for the feral cat population next year is up in the air.
“I don’t think we should give them anything” said Ward 1 Councilor Jim Szczerba.
“You’re throwing money away,” he and Ward 3 Councillor Rick Rossi agreed.
“So your opinion is we do nothing?” asked Ward 6 Councilor Tom Simchik to Szczerba.
“You just can’t do a few [cats] at a time,” Szczerba said of the cat group’s efforts, though he applauds them for it.
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