Posted in the Utica Forum
#1 Mar 28, 2013
Too bad every time I post the link it gets deleted. Why is that?
Doing more with less: A look at Utica and its finances
In 2008, the city of Utica employed 630 people.
Today that number is down to 510.
As budget pressures increase, cities across the state are being squeezed. The mantra: Do more with less when faced with skyrocketing health care and pension costs, poor finances and stagnant economic development.
In Utica, property taxes have risen 20 percent over the last five years, and the budget has gone up while city employment dropped 20 percent.
“There’s no question about it,” Mayor Robert Palmieri said.“We had an $8 million gap; we had used our fund balance, our water trust. There was a day of reckoning.”
But how does Utica compare to other similar New York cities, such as Troy, Schenectady and Binghamton? Is the city really doing more with less?
These are difficult questions to answer.
Multiple factors come into play, including state aid, property tax base, pension costs and economic development, said Peter Baynes, executive director of the New York Conference of Mayors.
“Every city is unique,” he said.“Those are drivers in what cities are forced to do. You have to look at pension costs; those are clearly the biggest driver.”
Plus, Palmieri said, you can’t just look at the cities — you must consider their suburbs as well.
“Schenectady and Troy both have wealthier surrounding areas,” he said.
Utica does not, and the city’s employees are generally among the highest paid municipal employees in the Mohawk Valley.
Still, based on similarly sized cities, Utica does provide the same services at a lower cost and with a slightly smaller workforce.
* In the last five years, Troy’s budget has risen by nearly $4 million, or 6 percent, while Utica’s has only gone up roughly $2 million, or 3 percent.
* Utica’s police department employs 14 civilians in a variety of administrative and support positions. Binghamton employs 12, Schenectady employs more than 30.
* The city’s pension costs, while enormous, trend slightly less than similarly sized cities.
But none of those statistics make it easier on struggling taxpayers or stressed department heads.
Beyond cuts through attrition or layoffs, Palmieri has refused to fill many positions within city government.
“We cross-trained a lot of our employees to do multiple jobs,” he said.“Everyone is working harder.”
Not everyone shares Palmieri’s viewpoint that the city is accomplishing more with less.
The reality is it’s difficult to do the same with less, never mind doing more, police Chief Mark Williams said
#2 Mar 28, 2013
Williams is faced with not being able to fill up to nine vacancies this budget year, potentially leading to service cuts and changing the department’s approach from a proactive one to a reactive one.
“We’re lucky because right now we’re dealing with a low call volume,” he said.“That’s going to change once it warms up.”
‘Cities are just treading water’
Binghamton, a slightly smaller city, offers an example of what Utica could look like in a few years, having pushed similar cost-cutting measures.
In 2006, the city’s fund balance was less than $220,000 and it had seen an average 7 percent tax increase annually for the past five years.
Today its fund balance tops $6 million and it has shed 11 percent of its total workforce under Mayor Matthew Ryan.
The city has used shared services, modernization and consolidation efforts, such as sharing police chiefs with a neighboring suburb, to save taxpayers millions, Ryan said.
“We share a police chief and assistant chiefs with Johnson City,” he said.“That alone saves taxpayers around $100,000 a year.”
A large part of that has been working with unions to go along with cuts, Ryan said.
That willingness to work with cities shows that some unions across the state are more willing to make concessions, Baynes said.
“I think there are some signs that the unions are realizing that if they don’t sit down and negotiate in good faith, they’re going to lose even more employees,” he said.
But that alone isn’t enough to move cities forward.
According to Baynes, cities have to focus even more on economic development until property tax values and sales taxes pick back up.
“Until real estate taxes and economic development activity starts to rally and accelerate, cities are just treading water, if not worse,” he said.
Palmieri believes Utica has been forced to take more drastic measures than other cities and can’t go much further.
“Cutting isn’t the answer any longer,” he said.“We have to be efficient and maintain the level of services people require in order to stimulate economic development. Utica is the area that makes the county grow,” he said.
#3 Mar 29, 2013
The state will be taking over soon.
#6 Mar 29, 2013
I'm not sure that would be a good thing. lol
#7 Mar 29, 2013
It helped turn NYC & Troy around.
#8 Mar 29, 2013
True. I guess then the state could use whatever money they wanted to in Utica.
#9 Mar 29, 2013
Why would we want to break tradition? Utica is booming!
#10 Mar 29, 2013
I believe the City of Buffalo was also taken over by the state a few years back.
#11 Mar 29, 2013
The State Control Board has the power and authority to nullify all contracts that are existing for any municipality that they come in to run. Utica might actually benefit by voiding the high costs of the public safety unions' contracts with the City. A Control Board may be the best hope for Utica to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch, instead of kicking the can down the road again and again and again......
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