Common Council talks budget, ARPA funds

Nov. 2—The Oneonta Common Council discussed the 2023 budget and where to spend its American Rescue Plan Act funds during its Nov. 1, meeting.

Director of Finance Virginia Lee presented the projected revenues and expenditures for the next five years. The city's projected revenues are projected to increase at a much slower pace than its projected expenditures, the charts she showed to councilmembers said.

To offset the shortcomings, the city will probably have to dip into its fund balance, she said.

The charts showed health care as one of the expenditures expected to increase substantially over the next five years.

Mark Davies, D-Second Ward, suggested ways the city could save on health insurance by promoting plans that focus on long-term health or entering a consortium.

Lee said the health insurance offered to employees does have some of the benefits and said the city is meeting with the county to see if they could join forces in providing health insurance.

Len Carson, R-Fifth Ward, said he worked on a committee that was looking into combining the city and county health insurance into a consortium, but it would take two to three years to get it up and running and five to six years to make a difference in the budget. He said local school districts are in a health care consortium, but the city can't join because the insurance company doesn't want to cover the public safety employees "due to the nature of the job."

Scott Harrington, R-Sixth Ward, asked how much money would be generated by passing a 2% property tax hike. Lee said $116,000. He asked Lee if she thought the city should impose a greater tax percentage.

Lee said the city has proposed to increase the water and sewer bills by 10%, so she thought if the city needs to propose a larger tax increase it should be done in the 2024 budget.

"If it was a normal year, I might say yes, but with the price of gas and inflation, I say no," she said. "I have been reading a lot of economists' articles. This is an anomaly, due to the COVID pandemic, shortages and the Ukraine war, the inflation rate is 8% in the U.S. In other countries it's 83%. It's global; not just New York or New England."

City Administrator Greg Mattice asked the council what they wanted him and the finance department do about the budget. Whether they wanted to cut anything out of the budget, whether they wanted to use the fund balance and ARPA funds to offset the projected $1.1 million deficit or if they wanted to use the fund balance to offset the deficit.

Harrington said he wanted to use the ARPA funds for projects the city might not have funds for.

Davies said, "I spent the weekend looking over this budget. There is nothing glaring that I saw that could come out."

During the meeting, the council voted to approve budget transfers totaling $221,000 to fund estimated fire department overtime costs.

Kaytee Lipari Shue asked if there was money in the health and dental insurance lines to take $74,000 from. Lee said the funds are available because the positions had not been filled.

The council also discussed using ARPA funds for several park projects. The city received $713,177 and spent $200,000 on improvements at Neahwa Park. It earmarked $235,000 to replace the bandstand at Neahwa park and $135,000 to replace the pedestrian bridge at Wilber Lake Park.

Mayor Mark Drnek said an ad hoc committee formed to come up with plans for the bandstand at Neahwa Park and also to build a portable stage that could be used at Muller Plaza.

The city also received $50,000 in ARPA funds from the county to resurface the basketball court, upgrade the playground and create a family play space at Wilber Park.

At the beginning of the meeting Drnek asked for a moment of silence in memory of Stephen Pindar, who died Friday, Oct. 28.

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at vklukkert@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221.