City budget would include service cuts

BATAVIA — The City Council will start work sessions later this month to go through a proposed budget for 2021-22 — a proposal that currently includes a 1.38-percent property tax rate increase.

Interim City Manager Rachael Tabelski presented a summary of the proposed 2021-22 budget to City Council Monday night which said the tax rate may go up 14 cents, from $9.59 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $9.73 per $1,000.

“About 26 percent of the city’s tax base remains tax-exempt,” Tabelski said. “That’s $218 million of property that uses city services, but does not contribute direct to our property taxes. “As we’ve spoken at many of our meetings, we have very difficult revenue conditions. Loss of our sales tax, our AIM (Aid and Incentives for Municipalities) aid being decreased by, what I’m projecting, 20 percent, by the governor’s office, management and budget. We are also not adding VLT (video-lottery terminal) funds into this budget this year.”

Sales tax, which makes up about 40 percent of the city’s budget revenue, is currently down $175,000 and AIM funds have dropped $350,000. General fund revenue is expected to go down from $17.6 million this year to $16.8 million in 2021-22.

“Revenue reduction, coupled with increases in wage and retirement costs, created about a $1.2 million gap between revenue and expenditures as compared to last year, when we started working on the budget,” she said. “The proposed budget reduces current levels of services to residents in many areas. They include parks and pavilion rental, tree trimming, ordinance and enforcement activities, community policing, special police details, community events, economic development services, funding for the arts, as well as reduced staffing levels in police and fire departments.”

Tabelski said restoring these services will depend on the economic recovery of the nation as a whole or re-examining priority services for the city.

Proposed cost reduction estimates for 2021-22 include about $187,000 in general fund expenses, $162,000 in administrative services, $322,000 in the Department of Public Works expenses, $76,000 for the Police Department and $51,000 for the Fire Department.

“The budget does include a layoff of an ordinance enforcement officer who was assigned to the police department and also to DPW (Department of Public Works),” Tabelski said. Vacancies for three firefighters, a police officer, a seasonal ordinance enforcement officer and a laborer will not be filled according to the proposed budget. Tabelski said she is working with Police Chief Shawn Heubusch and the Police Benevolent Association for a proposed retirement incentive for a police officer.

The water fund has a budget of about $5.1 million.

“The plan includes incremental rate adjustments and a modest capital improvement fee. The impact of the increase this year to a typical, residential customer is approximately $4.39 per quarter or $17.56 increase annually for their water,” she said.

The Council decided to read through the budget proposal and ask questions during the budget review process.

Tabelski talked about 2020 getting off to a promising start when COVID-19 struck in March.

“The virus, lockdowns, economic downturn and instability it has created reduced revenues in our budget, services for residents, and this (proposed budget summary) was very difficult to put together,” Tabelski said. “I’m proud of the budget I present, that it’s fiscally sound and there were difficult decisions made with the assistance of department heads and staff members, but I can honestly say that none of us like this budget.

“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. 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.”

The first budget work session is scheduled for Jan. 25.

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