Taxpayers get deeper tax rate cut in modified Ogdensburg budget proposal

WWNY Taxpayers get deeper tax rate cut in modified Ogdensburg budget proposal

OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - Ogdensburg’s proposed city budget has undergone changes. Now it includes a deeper tax cut for property owners and makes fewer job cuts at the fire department.

City Manager Stephen Jellie has released a modified city budget that will be voted on by lawmakers when they meet Wednesday night.

The original budget called for a 6.25 percent tax rate decrease. That’s now a 10 percent decrease.

The original budget also called for cutting 10 firefighters, but the modified budget makes fewer cuts at the fire station.

Jellie is now calling for cutting seven firefighters from the ranks.

As a way to avoid layoffs, the city is offering a $20,000 early retirement incentive to eligible firefighters.

The modified plan also puts money back into the budget to hire a fire chief, a position Jellie has been filling temporarily.

The firefighters union dropped off a last minute counter-offer to city hall Wednesday morning

“We’re trying to honor any agreement we made with Ogdensburg, but at the same time we’re trying to work within the confines of that to provide some savings, to save some jobs, and prevent a legal battle,” said Jason Bouchard, Professional Firefighters Local 1799 president.

The offer dropped off at city hall is a plan and expression of good will by the firefighters. But the city manager says it doesn’t move the needle enough to save the money the city needs to save.

“I’ve said it a bunch of times and I’ll keep saying it. This isn’t personal to the fire department. This is about the ability for council and the city manager to be able to manage all the resources within the city. This contract ties the hands of that,” said Jellie.

City council will be voting on the budget Wednesday night, but 3 councillors say they can’t support it.

Councillor Dan Skamperle said, “I’m against any budgetary constraints or allocations that violate any current contracts.”

Councillor Mike Powers said, “I will not support a budget that will compromise public safety.”

Councillor Nicole Kennedy said, “Our citizens deserve a voice and they have been shut down by Jeffrey Skelly and his counterparts.”

Those councillors say they would like to hear public comments before coming to a vote.

As for letting the public have a say, Jellie says a public hearing was held on the preliminary budget, which has been modified since.

Both the fire union and Jellie say they are ready for a legal battle over the staffing cuts if need be.

City council meets at 7 p.m.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the firefighters union issued a statement taking issue with Jellie saying its counter proposal doesn’t move the needle. The union said it offered 3 changes that would save the city $2 million over 5 years.

Read the full letter below:

To Concerned Citizens of Ogdensburg,

The following are parts of what was sent by Local 1799 to City Manager Stephen Jellie this morning. We put forth a fair and generous offer to help save the City a considerable amount of money, to save jobs on our department, and to avoid a long, ugly legal battle that will cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. We were notified late this afternoon by the City Manager, that he is rejecting our offer. He has now proposed cutting property taxes by 10%, while also claiming that the City is in financial distress. He has also changed the fire department cuts from 10 to 7, which we discovered late this afternoon and had nothing to do with our offer. His agenda is clear and will not play well in the costly court battle that he is openly inviting.

The following are excerpts from the documents sent to Mr. Jellie:

After careful consideration and much deliberation, Local 1799 is proposing amendments to our collective bargaining agreement to give substantial financial savings to the City in 2021 and beyond, and to save positions on our department. We are not reopening the Collective Bargaining Agreement for any further negotiation or concession. The details of these savings are as follows:

The purpose of the following amendments to the 2020-2025 Collective Bargaining Agreement between the City of Ogdensburg, New York and the Ogdensburg Firefighters Association Local 1799, A.F.L., C.I.O., I.A.F.F. (“Agreement”) is to promote a better working relationship between the City and its employees in the Ogdensburg Fire Department, to increase general efficiency in the Department, to help improve the overall morale and well being of Fire Department employees, and to assist the City financially. All other provisions in the contract shall remain in full force and effect.

Combining the savings from the three amendments offered will result in a total savings to the City of approximately $429,277 in 2021, $489,277 in 2022, and $466,277 each year thereafter. With our contract in effect for another 5 years, the total savings would be roughly $2,317,385. This savings to the City of over $2.3 million over the next five years, minus roughly $250,000 for contractual raises over that same period, brings the total savings to over $2 million, which is considerable, and is why we put forth this offer, to help the City financially and to save jobs.

With the amendments proposed and described above, the 10 positions slated to be cut in the Budget need to be restored. We shared a document with city council last week that details an approximate $200,000 loss to the City in 2021, if the 10 positions are cut; avoiding that loss, combined with the savings listed above, is a swing of over $600,000 in the City’s favor in 2021, along with 10 jobs saved.

Furthermore, if the City follows through with applying for and receives a SAFER grant in 2021, a number of positions on our department would be fully funded into 2024. This would help the City considerably with maintaining our contractual total of 24 bargaining unit members, which will avoid very costly legal fees if the City violates our contract and goes below 24 through job cuts. And it would save the City a considerable amount of money in salary and benefits over the grant’s 3-year period. We urge the City to apply for a SAFER grant as soon as possible.

We truly hope that with these matters behind us, we can move forward to build trust and a better working relationship with the City.

Sincerely,

Jason T. Bouchard

President, IAFF Local 1799

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