'None of us like this budget' -- $1.2M gap means reduced city services and staffing
In the coming weeks, Batavia City Council members will engage in a review process to finalize the city’s 2021–22 budget based on Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski’s recommended cutbacks to municipal services amid COVID-19 financial challenges.
At Monday night’s City Council business meeting, Tabelski presented a proposed pathway to economic recovery that summarized city revenues and expenses. She said that despite her pride in generating a financially sound budget, it was difficult to put together a fiscal plan because of income losses related to pandemic shutdowns and the subsequent economic downturn.
“I can honestly say that none of us like this budget,” she said. “The restraints and restrictions forced upon us by reduced revenue and state aid will not allow the city to operate as business as usual. There are services that will need to be reduced or cut altogether if we are to achieve a budget within the tax cap.”
She said city budget shortfalls have been compounded by a projected 20-percent decrease -- $350,000 -- in aid and incentives for municipalities. State and federal relief measures have focused on providing businesses with loans and grants, and individuals with stimulus checks, unemployment benefits and eviction and foreclosure moratoriums.
“Within the latest stimulus bill that was passed, there was yet no aid to local governments,” she said. “There is potential for local government funding relief with the new administration, but at this time there are no guarantees and it is not reflected in the fiscal ’21–’22 budget.”
Resident service scalebacks include reduced staffing levels at the local police and fire departments, community policing, arts funding, academic development, special police details and community events. Administrative services, public works and government personnel expenditures will also experience significant cost reductions.
“Restorations of these services will ultimately depend on the economic recovery of the nation as a whole or re-examining priority services for the city,” Tabelski said.
Though cuts and hiring freezes have occurred across departments, increases in city employee wages and expenses, like Social Security and retirement costs, will leave a $1.2 million gap between revenue and expenditures in comparison to the previous fiscal year.
The prospective budget includes the layoff of an ordinance enforcement officer, a retirement incentive for a police officer and several unfilled jobs. Tabelski said the city remains committed to investment in workers compensation and health insurance, budgeted at $294,000 and $2.6 million, respectively.
The property tax rate increase is slated to be 1.38 percent, which would change the rate from $9.59 to $9.73 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value. This year, the city saw a $175,000 decrease in sales tax — its largest single source of annual revenue — and a general fund decline of approximately $800,000.
“The current conditions in the general fund are unsustainable,” Tabelski said. “Future budgets will depend on the ability of the economy ... to recover lost state aid, for us to find sources of revenue.”
Tabelski said the city should become less dependent on the fund balance, reserves and water fund revenue in budgets going forward. She suggested to council members that renovations to commercial and residential properties throughout the community could serve as valuable income streams.
“Despite these difficult economic times, the City of Batavia continues to see investment and economic development in terms of construction and building improvements,” she said. “There are many active developers looking at our city for market-rate housing projects that will draw new small businesses downtown.”
The interim city manager praised Batavia government leaders for their efforts and expressed confidence in their planning to deliver the services that city residents and employees require.
“I anticipate that our budget work sessions to follow will be extremely detailed and filled with proactive conversations so the city can achieve the budget that meets the needs of the organization, the employees and our residents,” she said.
In other action, City Council:
Endorsed a Batavia Business Improvement District application to the 2020 New York Main Street Anchor Grant for a multipurpose events and entertainment space. If awarded the state grant for up to $500,000, the funding would be used to renovate the external façade and interior of the Batavia Showtime movie theater at 6 Alva Place.
Approved a resolution that authorized Council President Eugene Jankowski Jr. to sign the amended Dwyer Stadium leasing agreement. This is a five-year agreement in which the Batavia Regional Recreation Corporation will lease the stadium to CAN-USA Sports LLC.
Heard from City Attorney George Van Nest that local code enforcement deadlines are being delayed by the state legislature’s COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act. The act extends New York’s eviction moratorium until May 1 for tenants who have endured pandemic-related hardship.
The first budget work session will be held after the council’s next conference meeting at 7 p.m. Jan. 25 in the Council Board Room on the second floor of City Hall, followed by a second session Feb. 1.