Oneida councilors poised to pare just over $45k from budget

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ONEIDA — City of Oneida councilors finished work on the 2021 budget with a projected savings of $45,712.

The $22.7 million 2021 budget will be voted on at the Tuesday, Dec. 1 Common Council meeting and sees a 4% tax increase to the tax levy.

Major savings in the budget came from the Oneida City Fire Department hiring a new firefighter and cutting the short-shift overtime budget line and reducing the Oneida City Police Department salary line due to a late incoming hire.

Talks were had among councilors as to what to do with the money. Raises for department heads were considered, but ultimately shot down.

After the meeting, Comptroller Lee Ann Wells said the budget was too lean this year, and the city needed to get as much out of it as possible. "A 2% raise [for all department heads] would be about $17,000," Wells said. "I'm strongly concerned that the budget process is going to be even harder next year."

The city of Oneida is currently bracing for an expected 20% cut in state aid as announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Municipalities across New York were warned by the governor's office that this could very well be the beginning.

Wells said she felt expenses like this and others can't truly be considered until the city is looking at a better financial future.

Instead, city councilors made the decision to split the money between the reserve fund and the contingency fund with $25,712 going to the reserve and $20,000 going to the contingency.

Ward 1 Councilor Carrie Earl made a push to get the city of Oneida website updated, calling it "...antiquated."

Earl argued that an updated platform would be easier to maintain and allow better communication with residents.

Mayor Helen Acker said the city website has been on her radar but felt hard-pressed to place a line item in the budget when the city council didn't have an exact number. City councilors agreed to earmark part of the contingency budget for a website redesign.

"For so many years, the city council thought it cut all it could but would still take money out of the reserves," Ward 6 Councilor and Deputy Mayor Tom Simchik said. "For the mayor to present the budget to the council, hundreds of thousands of dollars had to be cut and it still provides services."

The budget still maintains a 4% tax increase, but no money taken out of the fund balance. Simchik assuaged any strong feelings residents might have about a tax increase, pointing out that a $100,000 home in the inner district would see an increase in taxes by about $45 per year.

"I feel the same way [when you get your taxes]," Simchik said. "The school taxes, the county taxes, and the city taxes. But keep in mind the city taxes you pay, compared to county and school, are the lowest bill you pay. And that's where you get the most services from. That's where you get your police department, your fire department, and your roads being plowed."

Simchik said city councilors work to try to keep taxes low, but this sentiment has lead to problems. In years past, the city council has tried to keep tax rates as low as possible and achieved this through money taken out of the fund balance.

"And now, we're paying for it," Simchik said. Should the city council kept on the same path and taking large amounts out of the fund balance, it would be quickly depleted in a few years and the city of Oneida would have no way to balance the budget save cutting more out of the budget.

And as it is, the budget is as trimmed down as it can get.

"Anything beyond what was cut now will cut into services. Services that, day to day, people expect," Simchik.

A straw vote was taken among the city councilors and all were in agreement that they were satisfied with the budget as it was. Ward 2 Councilor Mike Bowe was not present at the meeting, but had given his vote of confidence in the budget to Acker beforehand.

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