Geneseo holds special Council meeting to address Budget issues

Beth Welbers

The Geneseo City Council met Monday June 1 in special session to address the budgetary issues that had come to light in the last few months, and was recently worsened by the Covid-19 lockdown. All Council members were in attendence.

Mayor Sean Johnson started with some opening remarks, “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are speeding down the road of a financial crisis.” “The City Administrator and Finance Director will demonstrate what the lack of adequate revenues for each department looks like and how it will affect their daily operations as they present tonight.”

Johnson continued, “Previous administrations prioritized communal projects over building strong reserves. I say this to be honest and transparent with our public and our employees. Our limited revenue streams and a lack of reserves have made us more vulnerable to the Covid19 crisis than one could of ever have imagined.”

Jo Ann Hollenkemp , City Administrator, and Jamie Matthews, City Financial Director took turns going through the proposed 6 month budget , covering the 6 months of July 1 to December 31, which the city agreed to, in order to square the fiscal year with the calendar year.

Three positions in the administrative office have recently been consolidated. Three employees were offered early retirement, and the budgeting numbers are reflecting as if those retirements are in effect.

An additional police officer will not be hired at this time.

Impact bargaining notices have been sent to Unions that are associated with the City. Previously negotiated raises will be impossible to maintain, without layoffs of city personnel, or other drastic staff and services reductions.

Due to the Covid-19 shutdown, many of the traditional revenue streams for the City of Geneseo are greatly diminished. The Sales Tax is significantly less, as are Motor Fuel Tax, Utilities, and Vice taxes. Property tax revenues will also be greatly diminished because of residents who may not be able to pay them this year. Revenues are projected to be less than half of what was collected for the same time period last year.

Issues looking at the City include a payment of $240,000 to the police pension fund, a negotiated acceleration that makes up for incomplete funding of the pensions in earlier administrations. The negotiation calls for pensions to be funded at 90% by 2030. During this time $76,000 in Health insurance premiums for city employees will be paid out per month.

The City's Utilities are financially treading water. A rate increase two years ago shored things up for a short time, but are not adequate to add to the necessary obligations that are looming. The City needs to add to their reserves, ideally a sum equal to three month's expenses , in order to tide them thought times like these, as well as to qualify for bonds when large capital projects need to be done, for example, the repairs to the City's Water Treatment plant. The City also needs to make enough money to make the annual bond payments that come due in January, paying for earlier bonds, borrowed for past capital projects.

Expense cutting proposals were floated by members of the Council. Mayor Johnson and Administrator Hollenkemp had met several times to look at what could be done with various assets owned by the City, possible actions to help defray costs were:

sell the City Cemetery to a Commercial Manager

raise the cost of cemetery plots

donate parks to the Park District

increase Building Inspector fees

increase other city fees

sell the Industrial Park

1/4% non home rule tax

sell excess city properties, including lots at Richmond Hill.

Public safety tax

allow video gaming

have city employees contribute towards health insurance

raise utility rates

Bob James proposed the idea of al the council members donating back their salaries towards the shortfall. “It's not like it's a lot of money, but it shows we're willing to sacrifice as well.” A proposal of weekly meetings to help get the budget crisis under control was suggested, which was met with approval by all present Council members. Bob Wachtel stated that such an action “Shows the City Council is on it, and is going to act.”

Martin Rothschild commented “The finances were a lot more unhealthy than anyone would admit.”

Mayor Johnson also stated that in past years, regardless of who was on the Council, “”It was enough to balance the budget, no one though of preparing for bad times.”

Officer Tim XXXXX, commented at the end of the meeting, that he has been with the force 29 years, and that the Unions want to work with the City to help through this crisis, but they would like to be able to add the one officer in a year's time.

Details of the proposed budget are available on the city's website, included in the Agenda for the May 26 Council of the Whole.