Councillors discuss tax cap override in Ogdensburg budget talks

Ogdensburg councillors discuss overriding tax cap
Published: Aug. 29, 2023 at 5:37 AM EDT
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OGDENSBURG, New York (WWNY) - City staff says Ogdensburg is staring down a nearly $2 million gap in next year’s budget.

Mayor Mike Skelly says Ogdensburg needs to exceed New York’s 2% constitutional tax limit, but the city council is still split on the idea.

At Monday night’s meeting a resolution to hold a public hearing on the tax limit was not taken up.

Skelly said it will need to happen but did not believe it would pass that night.

City staff hoped councilors would provide input early in the budget process and approve the public hearing on the tax limit, before a full preliminary budget was drawn up.

That would not mean there will be a tax increase for sure, but that the option is there.

Citing the city charter, Councillor John Rishe said a preliminary budget needs to be presented before considering the tax limit.

Here’s some of Monday night’s discussion:

“It’s non-binding on council, it will allow for different budget considerations in putting that budget together, which is no small feat,” comptroller Angela Gray said. “If the consensus of council is not to override that tax cap, that budget cannot be put together without serious cuts within the general fund.”

“I think if you read the tea leaves tonight, you can go ahead and put a budget together,” Rishe said. “That’s your responsibility and we’ll consider the resolution at that time.”

“We’re going to have to raise the 2% tax cap in order to get the reassessment money,” Skelly said. “It’s a given.”

A staff report says at the same tax levy as this year, the city would face a roughly $2 million deficit next year.

After the city-wide reassessment, the city will need to raise the tax levy in order to see an increase in revenue.

That would come with people paying more in taxes.

If the city were to exceed the state’s tax increase limit and then balance its budget solely through a tax increase, a homeowner whose property is valued at $70,000 would go from paying $930 to $1,318.

The other option to reduce the deficit and keep taxes from going up too much is cutting staffing, which would likely lead to more cuts in the police or fire departments.

Interim city manager Andrea Smith will now work on a preliminary budget.

Councillors also approved hiring an assistant to the chief of police.

After an executive session, they voted 5-0 to exempt that position and the recreation director position from the city’s hiring freeze.

The resolution stated hiring an assistant for the chief is necessary to continue having police coverage around the clock.

Councillors also discussed what parts of the city should be focused on as they prepare to apply for the next round of New York’s Downtown Revitalization initiative.

The consensus was to focus on downtown and the marina district.