Ogdensburg sued over charter change

St. Lawrence County filed a lawsuit Thursday over a change to the Ogdensburg City Charter over the collection of property taxes. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

OGDENSBURG — City Manager Stephen P. Jellie and Comptroller Angela M. Gray will present the 2022 preliminary budget during a special City Council meeting Nov. 1.

“All city residents, and members of the neighboring communities are encouraged to review the budget and make your concerns and desires known to city council,” Mr. Jellie wrote in a news release.

The special meeting will begin at 6 p.m.

The 2021 city budget of $19,915,707 saw a 10% cut to the tax rate which equated to a $1.99 per $1,000 decrease in property taxes. It was not without debate or controversy as seven positions at the fire department were not funded. More of the same can be expected as the City Council tackles the 2022 preliminary budget.

In August, Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly issued a press release stating his intentions of seeking another 10% cut to the tax rate.

“I am establishing the goal of reducing the City Tax Rate by at least an additional 10%, from $17.87 to $15.88; if achieved will be lowest City Tax Rate since 2011 and a 20% reduction of the City Tax Rate since I took office,” he said at the time.

During his write-in campaign for mayor in 2019, Mr. Skelly and the three other councilors elected with him, John A. Rishe, William B. Dillabough and Steven M. Fisher, ran on a platform of cutting taxes by 25%.

In his release, Mr. Jellie said four topics — revenue sources, workforce staffing levels, economic development and pay and health care disparities between city employees — will be key for city councilors and the public to understand when they are able to review the budget.

“The city expects to see reductions in the top two sources of revenue — property tax and sales tax — which will require hard decisions to be made when appropriating funds to departments and programs,” Mr. Jellie wrote. “Thankfully, the city is not afforded the opportunity to ‘borrow’ for operational expenses, therefore living within the means of available revenue and striking the proper balance of those funds between departments is key.”

Regarding workforce staffing levels, Mr. Jellie said that while the debate around this topic is “certain to be filled with much concern, passion and emotion, it is equally as important that the facts be presented and professionally discussed.”

He said the city must maintain an appropriate balance within all its operational departments and programs. While he may take many factors into consideration when proposing the budget, it comes down to what is affordable.

“The final decisions will come down to what the city can afford,” Mr. Jellie wrote. “The city’s needs and wants far outpace the available resources and there are no easy decisions coming and there are no more opportunities to put off the needed changes that will stabilize the workforce at levels sustainable by expected revenues.”

When it comes to economic development, Mr. Jellie said it will require “nothing less than the full commitment and dedication of city council so that the city can continue to revive.”

“Job creation, waterfront clean-up, blighted property demolition and residential property maintenance enhancement are areas that the city is and must take decisive action when presented with options,” he wrote. “This area is directly tied to the city’s ability to increase much needed revenue in the two top areas. We must not allow the city to remain short-sighted in its goals for improvement.”

Adopting the Comprehensive Development Plan this fall will cement “this city council’s determination to future progress,” he added.

Mr. Jellie also touched on a significant disparity in pay and health care benefits among employee groups.

“The pay gap between the highest and lowest technician level employees is 37% and the gap in health care benefits has those employees making the least salary paying as much as 14% more for health insurance contributions,” he wrote. “All city employees are highly valued and appreciated, and the city must demonstrate that appreciation by ensuring pay equality and equal cost for health care.”

The 2022 budget has to be approved by the City Council by mid-December.

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