Dunkirk City Council begins budget review

Let the numbers be crunched – again.

The Dunkirk Common Council began its review of Mayor Anthony J. Dolce’s 2014 budget proposal Friday morning by hearing from the mayor that changes need to be made.

Dolce’s proposed a total budget of $21,967,847 with a real property tax rate of $17.301632 per one thousand dollars of assessed valuation, the same as this year’s budget. A scheduled water rate increase of $45 per year for 2014 is to cover financing costs for consent order work on the water distribution system.

The general fund (Fund I) was set at $15,241,260. The water fund (Fund II) is proposed at $3,094,544 while the wastewater fund (Fund III) is at $3,632,043. The total to be collected in real property taxes is $4,837,477 and is used in the general fund. The other two funds are mainly paid for with user fees.

According to Dolce, the changes will not alter the budget’s bottom line.

“Basically, the system is great, it’s made the process much more streamlined, much more efficient. I think you’ll see that too,” he said of the city’s new budget software. “Unfortunately it didn’t carry over some key components of those personnel lines.”

Dolce added some numbers weren’t handled correctly but that should be corrected as the process continues. The adjustments for the 2014 budget Dolce was calling for, which have to be made by council resolution when it adopts the final budget product, amount to an addition of $110,500 in Fund I appropriations which will be covered with additional projected revenue of $45,500 in sales and use tax monies and a $65,000 in expected revenue from the sale of scrap and excess materials.

Included in that scrap sale would two old Department of Public Works vehicles and a surplus fire truck. Another change would come in the financing of a new Sterling all-purpose DPW dump truck and a trash packer truck. Rather than buying the vehicles with one payment in 2014, five-year payment plans would be used.

The Fire Department budget would get another $160,000 and the Police Department another $77,600, both to cover cash-out, holiday and shift differentials in the Fund I changes.

Fund II would take $17,000 from contingencies to cover that amount in additional personnel costs.

Fund III would add $35,000 in personnel costs with half coming from contingencies in the fund and the other $17,500 being cut from the capital projects line in Fund III.

Dolce said there were things to address at the wastewater treatment plant but wants to do it within the scope of the budget. A tour of the plant and a presentation on an energy savings plan are being scheduled for council members.

“We don’t want to end up like we did at the water plant,” Dolce stated, before continuing to explain the numbers and why some needed adjustment.

Councilwoman Stacy Szukala was concerned that no funding was set aside for a possible change in the NRG PILOT payment and potential seawall repairs. Councilwoman Stephanie Kiyak asked Dolce about an NRG fund set aside.

“To me, that’s the purpose of the tax stabilization fund we have set up in the city,” he replied. “We’re going to have to be at the point where we raise taxes to draw on that tax stabilization fund. I think it’s already there, until we make more changes.”

Kiyak was concerned that the city was ignoring the worst-case scenario but Dolce again cited the tax stabilization fund as being the answer.

Councilman Michael Michalski wondered how the city could set money aside for something that may or may not happen but hoped the purchase of new vehicles be postponed until the NRG situation was clarified. Dolce said funding could be “rerouted” if necessary.

The meetings ran from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to nearly 4 p.m. Kiyak was asked about the results.

“We had an opportunity to touch base with department heads to insure that the proposed budget by the mayor was a realistic budget for each one of their departments. To go line-by-line with us so if there was a change in a reduction we wanted to insure that they were comfortable with that change, it wasn’t unrealistic,” she replied. “In one case we were actually told we can take a little bit of money out of what the mayor had given, take it out and put it someplace else. In addition, we also asked them to bring us up to date on any plans they have in 2014 and it’s just good to touch base one on one with how things are working in their department.

“I think those are major areas during the budget time that we can touch base with them. I think it’s a very productive use of our time and having them come in with a short schedule of time they get to give us a quick synopsis.”

Kiyak said there may be some changes to Dolce’s proposal.

“There are some items that we feel were reduced too much, so next week when council is finished meeting with all the department heads we will be spending the afternoon going over some of the changes,” she explained. “We’ll have an opportunity to bring the mayor back in and discuss some of the changes we are anticipating going back to him.”

Kiyak added she didn’t believe there would be a change to the bottom line but won’t be sure until the changes are presented to Fiscal Affairs Officer Richard Halas and/or Treasurer Mark Woods.

Budget review is set to begin again at 9 a.m. on Friday. Council is scheduled to meet in regular session Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.

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