September 29, 2010
Group looks at trimming city taxes
Attendance light at meeting of committee examining ways to save money in city budget
Alderman Dan Quail said he is not worried about the small turnout at Tuesday’s meeting of the recently formed Strategic Planning Committee.
A miscommunication gave many city officials little time to plan to come to the meeting, he said. Quail and three other aldermen attended, as well as a member of the city’s Financial Advisory Committee and two concerned citizens. None of the department heads attended.
Quail instead ran through his plan to get information from each department of the city government and to inform the public about ways to reduce the burden on Cortland taxpayers.
“It’s now a challenge to get a larger group and engage them in order to get public input,” said Quail (R-5th Ward).
For now the group is volunteers, but Quail hopes to have more input from citizens, surrounding municipalities, city department heads, and other city officials. He said the final product will be a recommendation to the city’s Common Council, and hopes that there will be a preliminary report out by April 2011.
Quail began his presentation by showing how high the current property tax rate is for the city of Cortland: about $15 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
He said the committee must find a balancing point between reducing the city’s tax burden while still providing a safe community.
The first step of the process is to take an inventory of all of the services that the city provides, he said. That means breaking down each department and finding out exactly what the city is paying for.
“We need to dig our hands in and not just dollarize it,” said Quail, who wants to look into more than just each department’s budget.
The group discussed coming up with a matrix of everything the city provides so it knows exactly what exists. Quail’s plan is to go function by function and see what each department’s budget is, and to look into its personnel, equipment and facilities data. The committee would then look for input from the department heads.
“The whole picture is where we find opportunity,” said Alderman Stephanie Hayes (D-2nd Ward).
After that, the committee would look for input from the county, surrounding municipalities and city residents, which would include educating citizens on what services the city provides.
“If we can’t rationally explain this to the community in general, then it’s probably not viable,” said Alderman Brian Tobin (D-4th Ward).
Quail said he hopes the committee will engage other municipalities to look for help solving Cortland’s financial woes. He mentioned that city police and fire departments will occasionally respond to calls in Cortlandville, even though Cortlandville does not pay taxes to help support them.
Quail asked the Common Council to consider dissolving the city last April. He said he has never given up on the idea, but was told it would be legally difficult.
He said it will not stop him from trying to reduce costs to city residents.
Eugene Palmer, a member of the city’s Financial Advisory Committee, said the problems with the city budget stem from the problems the state is going through and the mandates it hands down to local municipalities.
“The strategic angle of controlling our budget is vital to the future of our city,” Palmer said.
Quail said the Common Council will decide next Tuesday when the next meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee will be, and he hopes that it will meet once or twice a month on Tuesdays when the Common Council does not meet.
“We have to look at the alternatives, some are short term and some are long term,” Quail said.
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