OGDENSBURG — During the last several months, most Ogdensburg City Council members have worked tirelessly to make changes designed to place our community in a position where it can once again prosper.
Some of those changes have been as subtle as making sure our public parks and green spaces are neat and well groomed and that the city looks good. Other changes, such as replacing our former City Manager Sarah Purdy, have taken longer to accomplish.
Last week, the Ogdensburg City Council was pleased to hire Stephen Jellie to serve as our interim city manager. It’s an important position as we continue to make government changes that are long overdue in our city.
Mr. Jellie brings an extensive background in numerous management positions including with the federal government and the U.S. military. His field of expertise is public safety and emergency services.
Our interim city manager will be tasked during the next weeks and months, among other things, with looking for ways to improve the efficiency of our fire and police services as well as for ways to ease the burden on the property owners paying for those services. It’s no secret that fire and police account for the biggest portion of the city budget.
But just cutting expenses will not be enough to improve Ogdensburg’s future. The city’s challenge over the next several years will be to find a way to live within our means while at the same time growing our economic base. For this reason, our negotiations with St. Lawrence County over sales tax distribution will play a key role in our community’s future.
The city should opt out of the sales tax disbursement formula used in the county now, keep the sales tax allowed under law already collected in the city and depend upon that for government spending instead of relying so heavily on property tax.
Property tax as a revenue source for government is no longer sustainable. It is killing our economy and driving families from their homes. If we keep raising property taxes, we will bankrupt Ogdensburg.
I hope a fairer sales tax distribution formula will enable the city of Ogdensburg to offer attractive development deals to retail stores and other businesses to set up shop here. Our goal will be to encourage development, not drive it away as is now the case.
There is no reason that Ogdensburg shouldn’t be a retail and shopping mecca in St. Lawrence County. The only way this region will ever prosper is to grow our way out of it, not by begging for government handouts from Albany.
People on the street sometimes ask me why our City Council lately is in disagreement over so many issues. And I tell them that it’s because the days of a seven-member council smiling and winking, agreeing on everything and then doing nothing are over.
The previous Ogdensburg City Council agreed to sign six- and seven-year contracts with the Fire and Police departments. The board also lock-stepped into a project labor agreement — an all-union deal that has added millions of dollars in cost to our waste water treatment plant overhaul and blocked small, private, non-union construction businesses in the north country from having a chance at the work.
Spending more money, raising property taxes and agreeing to not rock the boat do not move this city forward or create new opportunities for our next generation. Making tough decisions, thinking differently, aggressively courting businesses to locate here and trying different approaches are what will make Ogdensburg great again.
My door is always open, and I’m always open to fresh ideas. I expect great things to happen over the next several months and in the coming years as we continue to make the changes long overdue in this beautiful little city on the St. Lawrence River.
Jeffery M. Skelly is the mayor of Ogdensburg.