As city finance's improve, council balks at raise for manager
In the years since Jason Molino took over as city manager, Batavia has gone from an annual deficit of $1.2 million to a surplus in 2009-2010 of $475,800.
Yet, minutes after the City Council heard an audit report on the city's improving financial condition, the council split 4-5 on a motion to meet in a closed session to grant Molino -- among the lowest paid top administrators of any city in the state -- a modest raise.
Councilman Bob Bialkowski asked to postpone the discussion saying he had only recently received information that should be investigated before a vote on Molino's compensation.
When the council did go into closed session, Councilwoman Rose Mary Christian declined to join the discussion.
There are families in Batavia that are hurting financially, Christian said, and until the economy turns around, she can't support any increase in spending.
While the other council members huddled behind a closed door, Christian said she thinks highly of Molino.
"I am not opposed to Jason Molino by any means," Christian said. "I’m opposed to any more spending."
When the council emerged, a resolution was passed on an 8-1 vote granting Molino a 1.5-percent pay increase retroactive to April 1, 2010.
Molino makes $84,260. The top administrator in Beacon, with a population 2,000 less than Batavia, makes $123,000. In Cortland, with a slightly bigger population, the top administrator makes $101,000. Geneva's city manager makes $94,000. (See Through New York for salaries; CityTownInfo.com for populations.)
Meanwhile, an audit report prepared by Freed Maxick & Battaglia shows that the city matched actual revenue with budgeted revenue in the recent fiscal year, after three consecutive years of exceeding revenue projections.
On the expenditure side of the ledger, the city, for the third-straight year kept spending below budget levels, with $445,000 saved in 2009-10.
Auditor Laura Landers (inset picture) credited the city with conservative budgeting, cuts in 2008-09, a decrease in health insurance costs, not filling vacant positions and deferring expenditures on aging equipment.
The city has been able to build a fund balance of $2.8 million over the past four years. In 2006, the fund balance was in the red $1.3 million.
The fund balance allows the city to build reserves for workers' compensation, insurance, capital projects, employee benefits and other reserves necessary to provide the city with a cushion against deficit spending.
Among the areas Molino recommends building up fund reserves for is the Department of Public Works and fire department equipment. He recommends reserves of $150,000 for DPW and $50,000 for fire. Within five years, Molino said, the fire department will need a new pumper.
"Right now, most of our equipment, if not all, is completely depreciated," Molino said. "Last year was the first time we purchased equipment in about seven or eight years."
While I was trying to take a picture of Christian alone in the council chambers, Chief Randy Baker came over and started talking with her, and then Jason Molino wanted to jump in the picture.