October 27, 2005

Committee Revises City Budget

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The Common Council’s budget committee revised the mayor’s proposed 2006 budget last night, making several adjustments and passing it on to the Council as a whole. The current budget includes a property tax rate of about $13.25 per $1,000, an increase of about 0.38 percent from this year, according to estimates made by City Controller Steven P. Thayer at the meeting. The mayor’s budget had called for a tax rate of $13.33 per $1,000, an increase of about 0.98 percent.

The budget’s revisions included several increases in revenues – mostly adjustments to previous estimates – and a few additional expenses, including a raise in salary for the mayor and members of the Common Council.

Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson presented her budget to the Common Council on Oct. 5. It was then passed to the budget committee, which is comprised of all of the Common Council’s members.

Last night, that committee considered several adjustments to the budget on a piecemeal basis, voting on amendments to increase spending on some programs and cut on others. The resulting budget is now passed on to the Council as a whole, which will make any last-minute changes and vote on it next Wednesday.

Although Council members were hesitant to vote in favor of increasing their own salaries, several said that doing so would allow more people to invest the time needed for the position.

“I think this has been long overdue,” Common Council member Gayraud Townsend ’05 (D-4th Ward) told The Sun. “There’s no reason why the mayor should be making less than $50,000 a year in her capacity as CEO of the city.”

“I think it’s important to point out, too, that our salaries have not been increased for 10 years, and this equates to only a two-and-a-half percent annual increase,” said Daniel Cogan (D-5th Ward).

Council members’ salaries were increased to $9,000 each, from $7,500 in the mayor’s budget, and the mayor’s was raised to $50,000 from $42,000.

Common Council member Michael Taylor ’05 (D-4th Ward) moved two of the proposed amendments, one calling for the canceling of a new forestry technician position costing $40,335, and another which would have created a municipal training officer (MTO) to train volunteer firefighters. That position would have cost a total of $95,130, but would have only cost the City of Ithaca $63,937 if the Town of Ithaca also approved its funding. Both of Taylor’s amendments failed by a vote of 4-5.

“Looking at the budget as a whole, I’m happy that the tax rate didn’t increase,” Peterson told The Sun, referring to the fact that the amended budget’s tax rate was not higher than hers.

But she added that she is worried that the amendments concerning the forestry technician and MTO positions would be brought back up at Wednesday’s meeting, since they only narrowly failed last night.

Taylor said that the forestry technician’s duties, which would include maintaining trees and clearing large, fallen branches from sidewalks, are already being handled satisfactorily by a seasonal contractor, and that it was unclear that a new position would save the city money.

He also defended the addition of the MTO position, saying that it is essential to ensure the “bunker program” of volunteer firefighters.

“The way the bunker normally used to recruit … is through the individuals who are active volunteers, or bunkers,” Taylor said at the meeting. “If we don’t fund the program, if we don’t get this going again with new training to get those new recruits for the future, the program is really going to end.”

Archived article by Yuval Shavit
Sun City Editor