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November 7, 2009 - Ray Hall (Archive)
City department heads submit budget requests to the Mayor which are submitted to City Council with the previous year’s budget and the Mayor’s Executive Budget. The department head requests shows what each department wants in the way of working capital for the coming year. A gigantic wish list that is hardly useful except to, intentional or not, leave the impression that the Mayor has already slashed spending before council ever acts.

For the 2010 City Budget the department heads would have adopted $42,901,237.00 as the final budget and would have approximately doubled the property tax levy to $25,276,729.00 with a property tax rate nudging $40.00 per thousand. That contrasts with the Executive Budget, the real budget submitted by the Mayor that comes in at $31,819,111.00 and carries a property tax levy of $13,944,603.00 with a property tax rate of $20.62 per thousand.

Go to any coffee shop, any restaurant In Jamestown and when the conversation turns to city government there is near universal agreement that our property taxes are too high. If the Mayor’s proposed budget is adopted property tax rates will go from $19.12 per thousand to $20.62 per thousand or $13,944,603 to be raised in property taxes. People are hardly bashful about how much property taxes ought to be cut--by half if not more.

What would happen if Jamestown cut its property taxes in half? The Mayor has always made a strong argument about theTaylor Law and how it favors public employee unions. Could the tax levy be cut from $13,944,603.00 to $6,972,301.50 and a tax rate of $10.31 instead of $20.62? It could, but it would be a more than a challenge, it would be a bare knuckled fist fight in the courts. So, while city department heads are permitted to submit their ‘wish list’ to city council it would be of some import for city council to have a 2010 budget ‘wish list’ from taxpayers.

The immediate affect of putting nearly $7 million into the community would provide an enormous shot in the arm for the local economy. However, such a huge tax cut would be a drastic measure, even draconian and would force us to change our thinking toward city government.

City government would necessarily become less important in our lives. City workers would be hardest hit. More than $3 million would be cut from wages and another $2.8 would be cut from benefits. However, a sizable chunk ($3.5 million) of that ($6.9 million) reduction could be offset if city council would dedicate Payments in Lieu of Taxes (P.I.L.O.T.) to reducing the tax levy.

If not eliminated entirely, the police department would have to make do with a much smaller force. City council would cut funding for the police department SWAT Team and Plain Clothes Detectives and put everyone in uniforms and on the street. Crime probably would be proportionally higher, but we would still be paying for a Sheriff’s Department and a State Police force 4000 strong.

The Fire Department might become a volunteer department with full time drivers and the Department of Public Works would all but be eliminated; city employees might have to go on a four day work week. Street repair, snow plowing, the parks and leaf pick up would be contracted to the private sector, or everything could be contracted to the county. Whether taxpayers like it or not, city government is thought of as a source of jobs for the community, an employer with 200 full time employees and more when we include the Board of Public Utilities. The Mayor, our city’s highest elected official, by practice and custom is thought of as a career employee and paid accordingly. Department heads are usually long term employees with pay commensurate or better than the private sector.

Over many years we have become accustomed to full time city government, but if we are really searching for answers to higher taxes then perhaps we ought to expect less from the city. Perhaps we ought to take drastic action, let the lawsuits fall where they may, and start anew. How likely is that to happen? About as likely as city council adopting a budget from city department heads.


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