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Bitter Medicine May Be On Way For Prendergast Library

Mary Poppins once famously sang that a spoonful of sugar can help the medicine go down.

The vote last week to approve Jamestown’s budget that included an additional $40,000 for the James Prendergast Library is likely to be the last spoonful of sugar before both the city and the library have to take some bitter medicine.

Earlier in November, Joe Bellitto, city comptroller, and Mayor Sam Teresi told council members that the projected cost for prescription drugs next year could be reduced by more than $350,000. Teresi recommended the council only factor in about a $150,000 of the savings because it’s not a guarantee. There were three choices for how to use the money — a modest tax decrease for city residents who pay the highest property taxes in the county and the ninth-highest property taxes in Western New York; put all of the money into the city’s fund balance to hedge pending bills or a mix of the two.

Council members chose the mixed approach, making everyone feel a little better with a spoonful of sugar.

Here comes the bitter medicine.

The last-minute $40,000 from the city doesn’t really do much other than postpone the inevitable for the library. Given the city’s past history, the library probably faces an uphill climb to pass a $350,000 a year library tax inside the Jamestown Public Schools District. It is that $350,000 that is the make-or-break number for the library to keep its aid from New York state, not $100,000 from the city of Jamestown. If the taxing district proposal fails, the city will not have the financial wherewithal to fund the library at the $350,000 needed to keep the library’s state aid. If the city has to pay $840,000 for the contested arbitration case and then has to pay a similar arbitration award to city firefighters, there won’t be money left in the city’s meager surplus to afford even the $100,000 the library will receive in 2020. A library struggling to make ends meet as currently constituted has just created at least a budget gap of between $40,000 and $100,000 for 2021 if the public votes against a library tax. The council and the library have just kicked the can down the road for a year.

Meanwhile, there is a good chance the city will lose its appeal in the arbitration case between the city and the Kendall Club Police Benevolent Association. That arbitration award from a Public Employee Relations Board panel comes with an unbudgeted $840,000 increase in salaries for police officers and likely will set a baseline for an arbitration case between the city and its firefighters’ union. Every wasted dollar from the city budget will come back to haunt the council if it loses the arbitration appeal — and what are the chances a judicial panel in New York state is ruling against police officers who work in a high-poverty area with a substantial opioid problem? Taxpayers deserved a break on their tax bills. The rest of the money should have been socked away to help pay the bill for police services. The City Council may have just kicked its small can into a ditch.

Last Monday, the council members and the library got their spoonful of sugar. We hope it tasted good, because that next swallow could be really, really bitter.

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