In just 13 short days, November 1, 2021, the Ogdensburg City Manager will present his second proposed budget to the full city council for their consideration, action and decision. What an exciting time to be working on the revival of the City of Ogdensburg!
City Comptroller Angela Gray and City Manager Stephen Jellie will present an in-depth overview of the city’s financial state (past, present and future) so that City Council can make the most efficient decisions on how to continue the progress currently being made by the Skelly Administration. While dwelling on the past is never productive, it is important that city council fully understand why the city financially faltered for years, the current status of recovery and the plan for future revival. This informative session will culminate in the presentation of the proposed 2022 Annual Budget document to city council and the publication of the document on the city website. All city residents, and members of the neighboring communities are encouraged to review the budget and make your concerns and desires known to city council.
Some important segments of this years proposed budget include:
Revenue Sources and Status – Prior to the commitment of resources, it is vital that the revenue sources and levels for the city are understood. The city expects to see reductions in the top two sources of revenue – Property Tax and Sales Tax – which will require hard decisions to be made when appropriating funds to departments and programs. Thankfully, the city is not afforded the opportunity to “borrow” for operational expenses, therefore living within the means of available revenue and striking the proper balance of those funds between departments is key. The expectation that water and sewer rates will increase is cause for concern among residents. The city will need to make significant changes to the funds that are taken from the water and sewer funds each year to fund shortfalls in daily operating expenses. Former City Manager Sarah Purdy warned in 2016/2017 that the practice of funding retirement costs for police and fire departments from the sewer / water funds was inappropriate and robbing those funds of resources needed in those areas. The city continues to divert too much money from these funds and the result is the now borrowing of over $30M to pay for the essential repairs to the Wastewater Treatment Plant, and the likely borrowing of up to $20M in the near future for essential improvements to the Water Treatment Plant. The city must adopt a more business like model for execution of these three distinctly separate programs (City Operations, Water and Sewer).
Workforce Staffing Levels – While the debate around this topic is certain to be filled with much concern, passion and emotion, it is equally as important that the facts be presented and professionally discussed. The City must maintain an appropriate balance within all its operational departments and programs – all are vital to city success. In preparing the proposed annual budget the city manager takes many, many factors into consideration but in truth, the final decisions will come down to what the city can afford. The city’s needs and wants far outpace the available resources and there are no easy decisions coming and there are no more opportunities to put off the needed changes that will stabilize the workforce at levels sustainable by expected revenues.
Economic Development – This area of the budget will require nothing less than the full commitment and dedication of city council so that the city can continue to revive. Job creation, Waterfront clean-up, blighted property demolition and residential property maintenance enhancement are areas that the city is and must take decisive action when presented with options. This area is directly tied to the city’s ability to increase much needed revenue in the two top areas. We must not allow the city to remain short-sighted in its goals for improvement. City Council will likely adopt the final version of the Comprehensive Development Plan during this same period of time, and that plan will cement this city council’s determination to future progress.
Employee Pay & Healthcare Equity – As previously presented to City Council several months ago, the city has a significant disparity in pay and healthcare benefits among employee groups. The pay gap between the highest and lowest technician level employees is 37% and the gap in healthcare benefits has those employees making the least salary paying as much as 14% more for health insurance contributions. City Manager Stephen Jellie was harshly chastised by City Councilor Michael Powers for bringing this matter to the attention of city council in a public forum and later that same evening Councilor Powers took to a private social media site (not available to the public) to voice his displeasure again with some of his staunch supporters. The disparity between employee groups is not the positive result of collective bargaining, rather it is the by-product of an outgoing city council determined to sabotage the city’s finances after seeing 4 members of city council badly defeated in the 2019 city council election. It is no coincidence that the lowest paid employees and the highest insurance contributing employees are members of bargaining units that signed contracts just prior to the 2019 City Council election – responsibly and in good faith. And, it is no secret the that highest paid employees and lowest contributing employees to healthcare are in the bargaining units that signed contracts immediately following the 2019 City Council election. Shameful actions by trusted elected officials in attempting to sabotage the city financially and even worse for using our city employees as political pawns to ensure disruption of city government. City Councilor Michael Powers (who is also the President of the New York State Corrections Officers and Police Benevolent Association) knows the facts and I urge him to lead, or at the very least support change that will result in equality for all union employees. All city employees are highly valued and appreciated, and the city must demonstrate that appreciation by ensuring pay equality and equal cost for healthcare while recognizing that on any given day - ALL CITY EMPLOYEES ARE THE CITY’S FRONTLINE HEROES and they ALL HAVE EARNED OUR RESPECT.
The City of Ogdensburg is approaching a critical juncture and needs your involvement. Please do your best to set aside some time to review the proposed 2022 Annual Budget and listen to the presentation of facts on 1 November.