OGDENSBURG — The city’s now healthy fund balance, somewhere north of $2 million, will mean lower interest rates, less borrowing and better cash flow, City Manager Sarah Purdy reported in her public update on Sept. 26.
In 2017, the city’s fund balance had been reduced to just $261,248. This was extremely concerning, Ms. Purdy said, because at the time the city self-funded its health insurance.
Purdy said she and City Comptroller Timothy J. Johnson got to work finding ways to build the fund back up, but that came with consequences.
“We put an absolute clamp on spending,” Purdy said. “You can see the impact now. We’re not investing in capital, we’re not buying any vehicles.”
The city lost an aging fire truck when its rear axle fell off when responding to a call, she said.
When people left city employment, they often left with some accrued time off that needed to be paid.
“We didn’t fill that position until that had played itself out,” Ms. Purdy said. “And not only that, but we stopped filing positions.”
Sometimes they went too far, she said.
Part-time seasonal positions in Parks and Recreation and the Department of Public Works that were left unfilled, were later restored when it became apparent they were needed, she said.
The state comptroller advises municipalities to have at least 5 percent of their budgets represented in their fund balance — $2 million is just about 5 percent for Ogdensburg, Ms. Purdy said.
Getting the city’s fiscal house in order, Ms. Purdy said, has been a top priority with a major goal of reducing the interest costs associated with long-term serial bonds and with annual tax anticipation notes.
Tax anticipation notes are the money the city borrows to meet expenses while waiting for taxes to be paid.
In 2017, the city used $1.8 million in tax anticipation notes at an interest rate of 4 percent, which was a cost of $72,000.
In 2018, the notes were pared down to $1.6 million with interest rates still at 4 percent; the city paid $64,000.
In 2019, the city is down to $1.4 million and interest rates have been dropped to 2.75 percent with a cost of $38,500.
Still, she said councilors will be faced with tough decisions as the budget season looms.
“These are the kind of decisions the city council is going to continue to be faced with — what are the services that we can reconfigure? Which is more important? Paving the roads or brush pickup,” Ms. Purdy said. “We are at a point now where in order to stay away from our constitutional tax limit we have to make other priority choices.”
Even with movement in the right direction, Ms. Purdy warned that it will be a while before all is right.
“When the city comptroller and I first presented to you the status of the city’s financial position in mid-2016,” Ms. Purdy wrote, “we stated that the deterioration of this position did not happen overnight and would not be repairable overnight.”