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March 14, 2013

Village begins budget work

By Greg Klein
Cooperstown Crier

---- — The Cooperstown village budget preparation should be a kinder, gentler process this year as Mayor Jeff Katz’s first year in office ends and his first budget nears presentation.

“Jeff, he was a trustee for (seven) years before he was mayor, he was the chair of the finance committee, so he knows what is going on,” Trustee Jim Dean said. “He’s got a great mind for finances. And he is meeting with everyone, and everyone is working together to present the budget. The last mayor did it all himself, and then handed it to the board.”

Katz admits his style is different than Joe Booan, his predecessor. But when the tentative budget is submitted on March 20, he said, he thinks the end results will be similar to the budget process before Booan, when Katz served as the chairman of the finance committee.

“It is a throwback in a way to something I started as few years ago,” he said. “It used to be that the mayor and the finance chair worked on the budget. I thought it would be better to open it up to the entire board. They are all elected officials and they all have good ideas and different thoughts about where to save money and how to do things. Why not allow everyone to have their say?

“With Joe, he met with the department heads, but they would do it themselves and then present it to the board,” Katz said. “That was his legal right as the mayor. He had the right to do that, but the result was the trustees had very little time to do anything or give their opinions.”

Katz said the thing that has not changed is the financial climate. Sales taxes are still flat and the economy is still ailing. In addition, because of the expected flat induction weekend, the board lowered sales tax expectations by about $10,000.

“The challenge we face is the same challenge Joe faced and the same challenged they faced when Carol Waller was mayor, which is that revenues are not enough to meet our expenses,” he said.

“The difference this year is that the last two years, the mayor spearheaded the repeal of paid parking whereas we have expanded the on-street paid parking,” he added.

With paid parking approved and a new partner in collecting ticket money, Complus, about to take over, the village revenues will grow this year. But no one knows how much they will grow.

“It is a transition year for us,” Katz said. “The biggest problem is a function of time. We have these revenues that will come in early in the year, but no one knows what they are yet, and they will not be in, in time for the tentative budget to be released on March 20 or the final budget to be ready in April.”

The board is tentatively budgeting $190,000 in revenues from paid parking and $50,000 in past due parking ticket fees. Katz said he believes both projections are low. In addition, the board is not accounting for the sales of $25 season parking passes.

“I tend to think the permit sales are going to be high,” he said. “That’s what my gut tells me. But the board has not budgeted any revenue from permit sales.”

Several projects the board has scheduled, such as repaving Susquehanna Avenue, are tied to the parking revenue projections being accurate.

“It is the beginning of the fiscal year, so you are going to know pretty early if you have the money,” trustee Lynn Mebust said at Monday’s workshop. “I mean, it isn’t January. You will know by Sept. 1. If the money is there, then you can repave Susquehanna in the fall.”

The board has tentatively agreed to raise taxes to the state mandated 2 percent tax cap. A public hearing is set for the monthly meeting on March 25 to discuss whether the board should vote to increase the 2 percent cap to account for emergencies, as it did in 2012.

With spring break falling that week, Katz said he isn’t sure the move will have the votes; he is also unsure if the board will need to exceed the cap, but said that personally he likes to do it to be prepared for emergencies. In early meetings, it looked like the budget would balance without raising the cap.

“I am pretty sure Lynn, Cindy (Falk) and Walt (Franck) are all going to be away that week,” he said. “So the rest of us, Ellen (Tillapaugh) Jim (Dean), Frank (Cappoza) and myself would have to agree. I am not sure if that would happen. Jim voted against it last year.”

A final preliminary meeting is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. today. Katz said he expects the board will be able to make the final cuts needed in order to keep everything at 2012 levels.

“Our goal would be to be as close to unchanged as possible,” he told board members on Monday.

But while the final numbers will be similar, lots has changed.

“We’re not taking any money out of surplus,” he said. “This year we are actually going back to moving money into reserves to begin the process of refurbishing the reserves.”