Not raising taxes might be tough, council learns in first budget session
It's that time of year again -- when the City of Batavia officials sit down to look reality in the face and try and figure out how to balance tougher-to-get revenue with ever increasing expenses.
Sales tax is expected to be down, some longtime employees are coming up on retirement, the city's infrastructure is aging and some key pieces of equipment haven't been replaced in decades.
So what about that proposed 3-percent increase in property taxes?
Councilman Frank Ferrando asked City Manager Jason Molino if there is any way to cut it back and Molino said that would be hard, especially if the city wants to start replacing old equipment and start planning for the future.
"Rather than my trying to take apart a budget that's pretty complicated, I look at it as best I can," Ferrando said. "You know the budget and the staff better than all of us. I would rather give you a charge and say, here's what I think our taxpayers would take and you make the adjustments as opposed to me telling you what you should and shouldn't be doing."
Molino explained that the city isn't looking at a tax increase just to raise revenue, but to put the city on a sounder financial footing.
"What we’re starting to look at is if we’re going to invest -- and I look at it as an investment -- you’re going to have to maintain certain levels of service," Molino said. "We're going to have to look at a marginal tax-rate increase. That’s what we’re starting to look at here. All right, if we’re going to have to increase the tax rate a marginal amount, what do we get in return?"
Council President Marianne Clattenburg, after noting how much more difficult the budget picture looks because of weaker-than-expected sales-tax projections, said making the cuts necessary to bring down the tax increase could be difficult.
"There’s always a possibility to cut things," Clattenburg said. "But this year we’re trying to bring back some equipment we’ve deferred and purchase things that we’re going to need if we’re going to fix the streets. We’ve really been budgeting conservatively for quite a number of years now, so when you get to the point we’re in now, with the economy the way it is and dropping revenues, it gets really tough to do."
About the only time the staff-council discussion became animated tonight was when Fire Chief Ralph Hyde tried to explain the need for his department to become ALS (Advanced Life Support) certified. It would allow firefighters to provide critical lifesaving care in those few instances when they are on scene before Mercy EMS. Fourteen firefighters are already trained as paramedics, in part because of current state firefighter hiring requirements.
"This will save a lot more lives than just fighting fires in a city this size," Hyde said, "because there are sometimes these four- and five- and six-minute gaps in response time."
The certification would allow trained and experienced paramedics on the Fire Department staff to provide lifesaving services that right now they cannot legally perform, even though they know how.
Some council members expressed concern about training costs and overtime, but Hyde and Molino said the process of getting and maintaining ALS certification can be cost neutral. That's because of state grants and how internal training programs can be set up -- using the City's on-staff trainer to train personnel from other fire companies.
The council also heard reports on the departments of finance, personnel, youth bureau, assessment, police, public works, and water and sewer.
The next budget workshop is at the Council's next regular Monday meeting.
Pictures: Top, Chief Hyde, left, and Molino. Middle, Police Chief Randy Baker with Molino. Bottom, full council at session.