Hoping to confront Ithaca’s “fiscal crisis,” Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 presented his plan to balance the city’s budget at a press conference Tuesday. Myrick’s proposed 2013 budget would close the city’s $3 million deficit through a combination of revenue increases, staff cuts and bureaucratic reorganization.
In his call for a balanced solution to the deficit, Myrick noted that advancing solely spending cuts would have required a 10-percent reduction in city staff. Conversely, only raising taxes would have required a 15-percent increase for taxpayers, according to Myrick.
After holding three public meetings about the 2013 budget, Myrick proposed leaving 25 currently unfilled city positions vacant — a reduction the mayor believes is manageable. Of these vacancies, 12 were the result of the city’s retirement incentive, which offered $11,000 or five years of fixed health insurance costs for any city employee who retired between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2011.
Myrick said he expects cutting the empty posts will save the city approximately $1.6 million. Another three employees, however, will be laid off — two from the fire department and one from the planning department, for an additional savings of $159,000. Other city employees will face reductions in work hours, which Myrick said he believes will save between $50,000 and $100,000.
The three additional layoffs were made possible by one of Myrick’s proposed changes to the city bureaucracy: merging the planning department and the building department into a new Department of Planning, Building and Economic Development. The new department would take responsibility for fire code inspections from the fire department.
Myrick also proposed merging the Chamberlain’s Office, which collects payments on parking tickets, and the Controller’s Office, which manages the city’s budget and payroll, into a new finance department. While Myrick said he does not expect the change to impact the budget immediately, he predicted it would save $230,000 over the next three to five years.
“Merging these departments will break down the silos that separate them, improve internal communication and, eventually, save money,” he said.
The budget also includes several measures to raise additional revenue, including a 2.72 percent increase in property tax — 1.09 percent less than the average increase over the past four years. The average Ithaca home would see a tax increase of $26 from the previous year under the proposal.
Myrick’s plan also proposes creating additional city positions, which he called “strategic investments.”
Under Myrick’s budget, a parking director within the Department of Public Works would be tasked with increasing revenues from city-owned garages and parking meters. Myrick also proposed installing new parking meters that accept electronic payment. He estimated that these two changes would generate about $70,000 during the first year after implementation.
The mayor’s budget plan also provides for a new Chief of Staff post, which would cost $82,000 in the 2013 budget including benefits. Myrick said the position would allow him to govern more effectively.
“I work about 80 hours a week, and I expect to work 80 hours a week next year with or without a chief of staff,” Myrick said. “The city organization has increased in size and complexity though, without any increase in the mayor’s staff. We could fix this with a deputy mayor, a city manager or a chief of staff. I think a chief of staff is right for Ithaca.”
He also proposed hiring a staffer to write grants and lobby in Albany and Washington, D.C.
Of the $20 million the city secured in state, federal and private grants and awards this year, $680,000 will be funnelled into the 2013 budget, according to Myrick, who said future grant money would easily offset the $60,000 investment in a new position.
Finally, Myrick proposed making a $250,000 withdrawal from the city’s fund balance — savings the city has set aside — in order to balance Ithaca’s budget in 2013. The proposed withdrawal is about $557,000 less than the average annual withdrawal from the fund over the previous four years.
Myrick submitted his budget proposal to the Common Council Tuesday night. The Council must vote on the budget, or present a version of its own, by the first week in November.
He said the task of closing the deficit is one that needs public participation.
“Any time you have to reduce services, you need public input to understand what they can live without and what they can afford to maintain,” he said.