According to the Manufacturers Association of the Southern Tier, Jamestown can avoid the suggested 6.26 percent tax increase in the executive budget through some smart cuts.
During the City Council meetings that were held on Nov. 5 and Nov. 19, Todd Tranum, executive director of MAST, presented council members with a list of recommendations that would help to close the $900,000 budget gap for 2013. In total, the council was presented with changes that could save as much as $965,000.
"There is very clearly an opportunity to avoid this tax hike," said Tranum.
In the initial documents presented by MAST, the first suggestion that is outlined is a complete elimination of the contingency line item, which sets aside $240,000 for use on an as-needed basis. It is suggested that in order to create a more balanced budget, the contingency should be suspended for 2013.
It is also suggested that the city reduces the number of demolitions that it schedules throughout the year. Currently, the executive budget is set to allocate $157,000 for 2013 to be used to demolish city-owned properties that have condemned structures located on them. By reducing the demolition budget by 50 percent, the city would save $78,500.
The budget recommendations continue on to include the elimination of one full-time equivalent position from the recreations administration at a savings of $55,000 over the course of the year and a restructuring of the debt service paid to the BPU by the city, which would save an estimated $105,000. The total cost savings outlined in this first wave of suggestions came to $478,500, which would cut the budget gap to less than half of its current state.
Under the section in the report labeled "City Cost Reduction Initiatives," MAST suggested further proposed budget cuts. The most significant of these recommendations are a reduction in city payments to the Jamestown Urban Renewal Agency for the city Department of Development and a conversion to a "Net Medicare" plan that would cover all retirees. Currently, the city is paying $372,000 to JURA, which MAST has suggested be cut to $270,000, resulting in a savings of $102,000. They also recommend initiating a BPU study to investigate the possibility of transferring JURA reporting and funding to the BPU. At current estimates, the medicare conversion could save the city as much as $250,000.
These two major factors, along with other line items including the sale of the Allen Park skating rink, a transition to a fee-based yard waste site, contracted IT services and better review of the assignment of work and overtime for all city employees are estimated to have a total budget savings of $487,000. These line items, coupled with the initial suggestions, could close that $900,000 budget gap with room to spare, according to Tranum.
"We have ways of getting this done, but we have to work for it," said Tranum. "We can look at the BPU as a cornerstone of what makes this city competitive. We have a good story to tell her when it comes to our utility rates and part of our strategy has to be expanding the tax base. A city should be the hub of commerce for an area."