OGDENSBURG — City Manager Stephen P. Jellie spent the first 26 minutes of his budget workshop with City Council on Monday night explaining how close the city is to reaching its constitutional tax limit, and the need to lower taxes.
The tax limit is based on 2% of a five-year average full valuation of taxable property. In Ogdensburg, the limit in 2021 is expected to be $5,596,000. The proposed tax levy, which includes a 6.25% decrease, is $5,336,903, or 95%, of the constitutional tax limit.
The city is allowed to exclude part of its tax levy that’s applied to the tax limit with debt payments and capital improvement costs. In 2021, with exclusions applied, Ogdensburg is at 74.87% of the constitutional tax limit.
Those exclusions, Mr. Jellie said, allows municipalities to buy time in order to get the tax situation under control.
Mr. Jellie supplied council with several comparisons of several similar sized cities and villages.
The comparisons show cities with higher property valuations are in better positions, such as Canandaigua, Ontario County, which has a population of 10,172 people, as compared to Ogdensburg’s 10,323 residents, but has a constitutional tax limit of $14,393,084. Canadaigua, without exclusions is using just 38% of its limit.
Closer to home, in Massena, with a population of 10,083 people, has a tax limit of $7,214,247, nearly $2 million more than Ogdensburg, and is using 81% of its limit without exclusions.
“This is no secret that the city of Ogdensburg has been in the 80th percentile for decades,” Councilor Michael B. Power said Monday. “This isn’t news. This is a similar memo that we get each and every year which brought about the FRB (Financial Restructuring Board) program.”
Mr. Powers questioned tax limit numbers Mr. Jellie used.
“A year ago, we were not in perfect shape,” Mr. Powers said. “We have not been in perfect shape for over a decade, but we were slowly starting to climb out of it.”
It was only getting better, Mr. Jellie said, if you looked at the exclusions that represent money the city has to pay — for capital projects or debt service — to drop below the tax limit.
Mr. Jellie said for several years, if you leave out the exclusions, the city was as much as 104% of the tax limit.
“Thankfully, the state allows us these write downs as a temporary way to raise the taxes that we need, otherwise we would have no ability to do this,” Mr. Jellie said. “We are just using the bailout clause year after year after year. That’s it, and we are not on any track to change that.
“There is no indicator, Councilor Powers, that we are going to increase revenues enough anywhere in particularly in property values which is where it needs to come,” he added. “Whether we add property to the tax rolls or raise the value of what’s there ... is no indicator that says: It is going to go up a the same pace as expense.”
The budget workshops continue Thursday at 6 p.m. when the topics will be assessment, engineering, planning and development, code enforcement and recreation.
The public will have an opportunity to attend the meeting by going to wdt.me/k7faSZ, or by calling 1-415-655-0060 and entering access code #356-076-853.