OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - Protests, job cuts, shouting matches at city hall. It hasn’t been pretty for Ogdensburg. But Moody’s credit rating agency has given a vote of confidence to the city when it comes to finances.
“I think this certainly is affirmation that we’re doing the right thing for the city and we’re moving in the right direction,” said Stephen Jellie, Ogdensburg city manager.
Previously the city’s bonds were considered a substantial credit risk – “junk bonds.” Now they’re investment grade. The report cited this year’s 10 percent tax cut as one reason.
“That is the most significant one, the tax cut, as it returns money to the taxpayers and it also brought that constitutional tax rate down,” said Jellie.
Cost reductions were another reason. The report points out city finances have improved for several years. The fund balance started to grow significantly starting in 2017.
“It was a wonderful team effort by the city to do that,” said Dan Skamperle, Ogdensburg city councilor.
Skamperle is part of a council minority often at odds with Jellie and Mayor Mike Skelly when it comes to cuts. Skamperle said before Skelly took office cuts were done differently.
“The approach that we took certainly didn’t create a hostile work environment. We asked departments to make cuts where they could and they identified areas and they made cuts,” said Skamperle.
The credit rating boost is important on its own – regardless of disagreements over methods. It should substantially lower interest costs on the city’s wastewater treatment project.
When it comes to Ogdensburg’s economy, it’s a mixed bag. The Moody’s report lays out the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
The good is the city has stable employment at prisons and in healthcare. But that also contributes to more than half of city property being tax exempt. The ugly? Median family income is declining rapidly.