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Ogdensburg raids funds to reduce tax levy increase, passes budget


The City Council managed to reduce a proposed 10.6 percent 2013 tax levy increase using some controversial methods.

By making a series of cuts and diverting money from other city funds, Ogdensburg will increase its tax levy next year to $4,604,457 from a 2012 level of $4,459,136, a $144,921 or 3.25 percent increase. The city’s tax rate will increase from $16.2113 per $1,000 of assessed value to $16.736825, or a 3.24 percent increase.

Spending cuts made up $129,644 of the savings, general fund expenditures will increase from $19,040,650 this year to $19,554,113 2013. The city also boosted its estimated sales tax receipts by $35,000, anticipating an increase in the flow of Canadian shoppers across the St. Lawrence River.

The rest of the savings came from taking $100,000 out of Ogdensburg’s water fund and $25,000 from the fund balance.

City Comptroller Philip A. Cosmo said the council was robbing Peter, the city’s fund balance, to pay Paul and keep the tax rate low.

“You’re going in the wrong direction, you either have to cut your services meaningfully or raise the tax levy to reflect the services you’re providing,” he said. “What you’re doing is unrealistic, I think you’re shooting yourselves in the foot.”

Mr. Cosmo explained that by using money from elsewhere for general expenditures, the city was funding expenses not covered by its tax levy. Eventually, services would either have to be cut or taxes raised to reflect the spending.

Councilman William D. Hosmer agreed.

“I don’t think we should take out of our fund balance,” he said. “I think it is short-sighted, we shouldn’t deplete it.”

The city’s fund balance is created when it over budgets for expenditures or receives more revenues than anticipated. The money enters into an account that is used for day-to-day cash flow throughout the year. Because Ogdensburg has used the fund balance in the past, Mr. Cosmo said he has had to borrow money in recent years to maintain cash flow.

“If you want to keep taxes any lower, you have to cut services, and no one on this council is willing to do that,” he said. “You’re talking about changing your programs, you’re talking about people and cutting positions.”

Though some Council members violated their pledge not to pass a budget that violated the state tax cap, they did go through city expenditures line-by-line looking for savings.

The Ogdensburg Police and Fire departments had their budgets cut, with the council opting to delay filling three openings on the police force through the beginning of May, creating a $45,000 saving. The council also cut $18,000 out of the fire department’s budget for equipment and training.

Expenditures for sidewalks, streetlights and other public safety elements were cut by $20,000.

Economic development and cultural activities were also sharply cut.

The Council cut the city’s funding for parades and celebrations from $10,000 to $9,000. The Greater Ogdensburg Chamber of Commerce, the Ogdensburg Garden Club, Forsyth’s Rifles and FISHCAP also saw their funding reduced.

Finally, the city cut $13,000 from the Ogdensburg Public Library and the Remington Museum.

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