On Monday night, the Batavia City Council is expected to schedule a public hearing on the municipality’s 2021-22 budget, a $16.79 million general fund spending plan that currently calls for a 1.38-percent increase in the property tax rate.
While the tax hike is modest (the annual increase will be about $13 on a home assessed at $100,000), in Councilperson-At-Large Robert Bialkowski’s eyes it still is significant and could be a harbinger of things to come.
“Three of us are Councilman-At-Large and we have to look at the whole city for the budget, not just an individual area,” Bialkowski said today. “The individual council members are all in there, doing what they’re supposed to do by fighting for their neighborhoods and all that, but everybody has been cut in the budget. And I think that this is just the beginning of more to come.”
Bialkowski called out the state and federal government for mismanaging their finances.
“When you look at the state being millions of dollars down the rat hole, and the federal government spending money that we don’t have – borrowed money, I think it’s time for people to start doing more for themselves and getting use to not having some of the nice things that they’re used to having,” he said.
“This winter is good example. People need to get out and start shoveling their sidewalks, not expecting the government to do everything for them. Still, all the services are there – the police and fire departments’ shifts will be fully manned. We made cuts in every department; every department is feeling the pinch.”
Department Heads to be Commended
Bialkowski credited the city’s department heads for coming through “in stellar fashion.”
“They’ve sharpened the pencil and eliminated things that we can live without,” he said, “but as far as being a short-term problem, I don’t think so. Everybody is looking for grants but grants are from the people.”
On the tax increase, he said that people who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 “don’t have $12 or $13 now (to pay their taxes), and they won’t have it next year. We’re very aware of the financial situation.”
He said he also is worried that owners of rental units in the city, some who haven’t seen any rent in close to a year, will walk away from their properties – creating another potential loss in revenue to the city.
In closing, Bialkowski said “overall, I’m comfortable with it (the budget), and if people have a real serious objection, they’ll have an opportunity for input at the public hearing (which is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 22 during Council’s Conference Meeting).
Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski, in a video interview with The Batavian on Friday, echoed some of Bialkowski’s sentiments, especially noting that the budgetary crunch could continue on for quite some time.
Tabelski: 'Can't Sustain This Forever'
“I would say the average home that’s (assessed at) $100,000 will have an increase of $13 on their city tax bill annually – a dollar a month increase. But, I will say that the city can’t sustain this forever, so we’re going to be looking at … how we do this moving forward,” she said. “The news on the sales tax was pretty good, only down 1 ½ to 2 percent. There are positive things that are happening but it’s still too early to tell.”
Tabelski said revenue is down about $800,000 compared to last year.
“I’d say the hardest part about this year is the loss of revenue plus the increase in costs,” she said. “Our best asset in the city is our personnel and we have great people that work on behalf of the city in public safety as well as clearing the roads and in our clerk’s office. It was very difficult to have positions that are going to remain frozen. We originally scheduled a layoff but now we don’t have to do that.”
She said not being able to fill every position puts an added burden on employees who work in the various city departments.
“This is a budget that I don’t like. I don’t like this budget but it is fiscally accurate and it doesn’t put a huge burden onto the property taxpayers, (the amount to be raised by taxes is $5.8 million) but just the uncertainty of the pandemic and the situation that our residents are in, exceeding the (state’s 2 percent) tax cap was not advised and certainly Council did not want that to happen,” she said. “So, we were able to deliver a budget that did not do that.”
Tabelski said city employees historically have “done a lot with a little,” and she is confident that all will pull together “to get through this crisis to get to more stable times.”
“And the state government is a factor in this, too, because that’s where some of our aid loss is coming from, and not just in sales tax.”
Options to View the Meeting
Monday’s City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the City Hall Council Board Room.
As the Yellow Zone restriction was lifted from Batavia, this meeting will be open to the public with appropriate face masks, social distancing and temperature screening upon arrival.
Options for viewing the meeting include Batavia News Service YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOdvZ9lGH0FiD9ADz6Cg6EQ
Livestreaming on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bataviany/
Spectrum Channel 1301 – 9 a.m. Feb. 10 and 8 p.m. Feb. 12.
The agenda also includes the following:
- A public hearing to provide information on the Community Development Block Grant program through the state Office of Homes and Community Renewal. The city is hoping to obtain a CDBG grant to fund infrastructure projects.
- Scheduling of public hearings on Feb. 22 to establish new water rates, meter fees and capital improvement fees, and to amend the Batavia Downtown Business Improvement District Plan.
Water rates and quarterly meter service fees are projected to increase by 3.5 percent, with quarterly capital improvement fees increasing by 10 percent.
Amendments to the BID Plan center upon three proposed capital projects -- downtown marketing banners ($9,000), downtown music equipment ($30,000) and downtown Christmas decorations ($38,000) – and the amount of the BID’s assessment charge to its members.