Mayor Rolison Releases 2018 Preliminary Budget
October 16, 2017
Dear Honorable Members of the Common Council, and to our taxpayers and residents, to our local business owners and our non-profits, to our faith-based organizations and to all the stakeholders in the Great City of Poughkeepsie, GREETINGS:
Pursuant to Article XIV of the Administrative Code, I hereby submit the 2018 Preliminary Budget for the Common Council’s deliberation and action. With a proposed total appropriation of $84,527,923, and a General Fund appropriation of $49,620,223, this budget makes important investments in our City, positions us to improve services to our residents, and continues our multi-year plan to stabilize our finances, improve our bond rating, and pay-down our general fund deficit, all while staying under the tax cap.
Good budgeting is the cornerstone of good government. As I have said many times, the key to our being able to address important quality of life issues rests with good budgeting and fiscal responsibility. 2015, the year before I took office, saw a year-end deficit of $1.9 Million Dollars, which increased the overall general fund deficit to a staggering $13 Million. The City’s Bond Rating was poor, and the City’s outlook was classified as ‘negative’ by Moody’s Investors Service. We have reversed that negative trend. Moody’s now calls us “stable”, and the Office of the State Comptroller has classified our fiscal stress level as “moderate”.
When I ran for this Office – an effort I called “a campaign for our City” – I promised a major course correction. I promised to fully review the City’s financial situation, identify the most immediate problems, and prioritize a path forward that will serve as our roadmap for the years ahead. I am pleased to report that we have seen significant progress on the central issue of stabilizing our finances. Now, while we will remain ever-vigilant in our search for savings and efficiencies, this budget can begin the process of rebuilding core pieces of government which were dismantled during those down years – from Economic Development, to Parks and Recreation, from City Planning to training and development of our workforce.
Our 2018 budget stays under the New York State Tax Cap.
A homestead rate of $13.29 and a non-homestead rate of $17.72 per $1,000 of assessed valuation is necessary to account for contractual and everyday increases in the cost of operations. This budget increases the tax levy by 1.80%, from $23,207,352 to $23,625,583. With a total appropriation of $84,527,923 and a General Fund appropriation of $49,620,223, an increase of $48,903 or 0.1%. While there continue to be upward pressures on costs which this budget must account for, the primary drivers of the General Fund appropriation change from last year are positive: the elimination of our transit service saved approximately $391,000, while our debt-service costs to the General Fund declined by $360,000.
The thrust of our fiscal plan for 2018 relies on efficiencies and reorganization that will allow us to invest in our City and to renew local government’s commitment to serving its citizens – to public safety, to cleaner streets, to better-maintained parks, and to simply being more responsive to the needs of our residents. We will invest in new police cars, we will upgrade essential fire apparatus, and we will make a significant investment in our Department of Public Works.
It is because our first budget in 2017 took-on the realities that came with severe fiscal stress that we can now pivot towards addressing the highly-visible and frustrating issues that affect the quality of life in our City. It is because we resolved long-standing collective bargaining issues in 2017 that we can now move forward more collaboratively with labor to address structural and organizational issues which still stand between us and a truly efficient government. It is because we worked to earn $3 Million Dollars in Special Assistance from the State’s Financial Restructuring Board, that we have opportunities heading into 2018 and beyond that have not existed for more than a decade. The point is that local government is important. Our choices do impact outcomes, and tomorrow’s results are written in the budgets we adopt today.
No Change to Water or Sanitation Rates – 10% Decrease to Sewer Rates
Earlier this month our Finance Committee completed a thorough review of our water, sewer and sanitation funds. The results of this review are encouraging – our Water and Sewer funds are in good shape, and while our Sanitation fund is running a small deficit, guidance is that it can be corrected by operational enhancements which improve efficiency and thereby reduce costs. Our 2018 Capital Plan includes the acquisition of a new garbage truck which is sorely needed and which will eliminate the City’s reliance on rental of equipment and will also lower maintenance costs.
Sewer rates for 2018 will be lowered by 10% to bring us in-line with actual and projected expenses, and we will be utilizing grant funds to undertake a review of our longer-term sewer infrastructure needs. In this I am guided by our Council’s Finance Committee, and I would like to thank Councilmen Lee Klein and Mike Young for their work on this and other matters that the Committee has undertaken.
Consolidation of the City’s Transit Service with Dutchess County
Change is usually challenging, and I think that if there were easy solutions others would have implemented them long ago. The transit debate did not only rage throughout 2017, it festered for more than eight years before I took office. It was time to put the matter to rest, multiple Councils having failed to address the structural and long-standing issue of sustainability in the face of declining ridership. At this moment, the City busses are housed at our DPW garage, while we await the Council’s authorization to transfer them to Dutchess County in accordance with the consolidation’s asset disposition plan. Despite the legislative gridlock on our Council with respect to the transfer of assets, the County began service within the City on July 1st, 2017 as planned. I, along with all those who realize you do not reject the good in an endless pursuit of the perfect, thank the County for stepping-in as City service ended. This budget does not account for between $1.6 and $1.9 Million Dollars in potential federal recapture costs arising under our Master Grant Agreement with the Federal Transit Administration. The fact that this remains unresolved lingers over all our taxpayers and city employees like a dark cloud.
Investing in Poughkeepsie’s Youth
The patch-work and poorly-funded way the City has administered its various youth sports programs will be replaced with a new system of grants and oversight, where our community organizations and non-profits which have long been involved in youth activities and sports, will now have an opportunity to win funding. Our renewed commitment doubles funding for these youth activities, expanding opportunities and leading to new and stronger programs. This grant program will be administered by a panel of volunteers from both within and outside City government. This is not a new experiment, by the way, the benefits of expanded youth programs are many, but suffice it to say that it’s past time we have the discussion about the need to do better when it comes to our sons and daughters.
A Renewed Commitment to our Department of Public Works
This budget provides for several new positions at DPW, including a new Assistant Superintendent, a part-time Parks and Recreation Coordinator, a second sanitation inspector, and staff which will allow us to add a weekend shift for the first time in memory. This will reduce overtime costs, but more than that, it will allow us to keep our City cleaner and be more responsive to the concerns of our residents. Adding resources is just one piece to the puzzle however. At the same time we must enforce our local laws, pursue illegal dumpers, those who post illegal advertising throughout our City, and other contributors to the blight which drags down our property values.
A Promising Year Ahead
We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the State of New York’s Financial Restructuring Board, which awarded us up to $3 Million Dollars in support of various initiatives, from the rebirth of a strategic economic development effort, to the refurbishment of our parking system. Among other things, we are now able to restore the previously cut position of “City Planner”, we have already established a position of “Parking Coordinator”, and work has begun on the Financial Plaza Parking Deck in the heart of our downtown.
I take the responsibility of being your Mayor very seriously. Without a fund-balance, a so-called ‘rainy-day’ fund, it is essential we manage to the budgets we adopt. This is a well-balanced and achievable budget. It keeps us under the tax cap while at the same time allowing us to put additional resources where we know they are needed. It also sends a strong message that Poughkeepsie is getting its house in order. After all, it is our own investment in our City which will attract the investment of others.
Thank you and God Bless the Great City of Poughkeepsie.
Robert G. Rolison
Poughkeepsie, New York
Download: 2018 Preliminary Budget (.pdf)