×

City Budget Deficit Should Come As Little Surprise

The financial chickens are coming home to roost for the city of Jamestown.

News during the most recent City Council work session that the 2024 budget doesn’t balance by between $1.9 and $2.9 million isn’t really that surprising given that former city Comptroller Joe Bellitto told council members in December that the plan was out of whack mere weeks after it was approved. Let’s not forget that even after the well-respected Bellitto issued his warning, the prior city administration issued a memo defending much of its work.

Oops.

Bellitto was called in to help close the city’s 2023 financial records and then was asked by Mayor Kim Ecklund after her election to review the 2024 budget. Bellitto quickly found a $1.5 million that required changes to the budget while also raising concern with several other line items that include health insurance spending and employee retirement costs. Here we are a few months after Bellitto’s report dealing with some of the very issues Bellitto said were going to be problems.

There’s $700,000 in employee retirement and health insurance costs that were under budgeted. Council members asked about those numbers and were told they were accurate prior to Bellitto’s December warning. The city’s budget team didn’t heed the warning, Instead it doubled down on its shoddy work and defended its numbers. It turns out Bellitto was right.

Other communities that have run additional ambulances have struggled to meet revenue projections – and in Jamestown’s case the city was banking on receiving revenue before the ambulance was even here. That $200,000 was a long shot from day one. Budgeting too much in ARPA interest revenue was a similar problem. It stands to reason that if money is being withdrawn from the bank that interest revenue will decrease, but the prior administrative team didn’t make the financial adjustment. Bellitto similarly questioned additional state aid in the budget as part of the city’s push to have retirees move to Medicare rather than remain on the city’s insurance. The city’s budget team said the money will be coming. Now, it appears that’s in doubt. Bellitto was right again.

One of the only budget busters no one really saw coming is the increase in stop loss insurance, and that’s because no one can foresee more catastrophic illnesses befalling city employees and their families.

The administration, as Ecklund said repeatedly at the council’s last work session, did the city no favors as the 2024 budget was developed. We don’t disagree with that assessment. But it’s important to note the council – including Ecklund – could have pushed harder for answers if they had serious doubts about the numbers they were given by the administration. Ecklund and her fellow 2023 council members do have some skin in the decisions that led to this deficit. It’s an experience to learn from for the mayor as she transitions from the council to the mayor’s office.

The city of Dunkirk is paying the price for being too lax with fiscal oversight. Jamestown, after spending so many years scratching and clawing to achieve some semblance of financial stability, can’t fall into a similar trap.

Newsletter

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *
   

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today