When Councilman Daniel E. Skamperle was first elected almost two years ago, one of his first complaints was an unsightly stand of brush along Crescent Street blocking views of the Oswegatchie River.
I know that nothing has happened, but people keep complaining about it and I dont blame them it is a little bit of an eyesore, he said.
Other council members echoed his concerns at Mondays City Council meeting.
I think it is a shame that when you walk around the Crescent, you cant see the river, said Councilman Wayne L. Ashley.It has to be cleaned up to set an example.
Today, the brush remains untrimmed because staffing shortages in the Department of Public Works has left director Kit W. Smith short of manpower.
Once you have people moving on operations, getting streets paved and doing day-to-day maintenance, we dont have the staff to do what they want, he said.
Mr. Smith said his department has lost three positions over the past two years.
Any time when you have budgetary drawbacks or pullbacks, you are going to affect the services you provide, he said.There comes a time where we all have to look at what we can actually accomplish and do versus how much we can afford to do. At some point, services will suffer because of the limited budgets were under.
The council authorized City Manager Philip A. Cosmo to seek proposals for a private company to come in and trim the brush, said Deputy Mayor Michael D. Morley.
The services we used to provide are now being contracted out to someone else, he said. Not what I would call a positive sign.
Now, many council members are reconsidering the small-government ideals they brought to city hall.
HOW THIN IS TOO THIN?
As a city we need to take care of our assets, said Councilman William D. Hosmer.We dont want to blow-up the budget, but we have to realize that if were not taking care of our city, if there are not enough resources, then were not going to have a city to take care of.
The Department of Public Works isnt alone. The anorexic budget has also impacted the citys Department of Planning and Development, which has essentially become a one-woman office, said Mr. Ashley.
It is kind of unhealthy being this thin, he said. I think it has gotten to that point now because we need some more people up in the planning office.
I think that like many departments in the city, the planning department could use a few extra hands, especially when it comes to doing the administration of the grants that we currently have and seeking additional grant funds, said Andrea L. Smith, city planner. I dont think that is unique to the planning department. Many departments have had to cut back and be more frugal because of the tough economic times were going through.
Director of Parks and Recreation said his department lost two seasonal employees over the past year.
I know staffing levels have decreased further over the past few years, he said. We are adapting to the cuts. Our staff has really stepped up.
A CITY AT THE BOTTOM
Mr. Morley questioned whether Ogdensburgs budget cuts have gone too far.
You know, weve reduced our budget, and reduced our budget and reduced our budget to keep costs down, he said. I almost feel that we are at the bottom, that weve over cut. The things we used to do we dont do anymore. We dont have enough manpower, maybe weve reduced ourselves a little too thin.
The staffing shortages are largely due to the trim budget, said City Manager Philip A. Cosmo.
I know we have not replaced some posts over the past several years, he said. It is a problem because we have fewer bodies to maintain the exact same workload. If something out of the ordinary pops up you have less room for contingencies.
Councilman R. Storm Cilley said the city has reached a breaking point with its staffing levels and the services it can provide.
Unfortunately the economic realities facing the city dictate that staffing levels are not going to increase, he said.I do believe that we have reached a limit on expecting to do more with less. We will have to be happy with what we have and can afford.
Unfunded mandates from the State of New York are part of the problem, said Mr. Cosmo, as the city must cope with the rising cost of retirement and health care for public employees.
We usually use roughly 60 percent of our costs are for personnel, he said.I dont think it is unusual for government agencies, what they spend their money on is their employees.
SHORT ON WORKABLE SOLUTIONS
Mr. Cosmo doesnt expect fiscal situation for the city to improve without outside help.
I can only think of two ways to deal with the problem, he said.We can find other sources of revenue, I know the county is asking to be allowed to raise the sale tax, but I dont think that is moving too fast, or we can cut expenditures like a person does on their home budget.
Mr. Morley said the city may need to consider raising taxes, but that he would be reluctant to support such a measure. Even if support to raise the tax materialized, state law limits property tax increases to two percent per year.
The 2% tax cap has severely limited the amount that the city can raise in property taxes if we were so inclined, said Mr. Cilley.The promised mandate relief that was to accompany this limit has failed to materialize.
Council members are looking to St. Lawrence County to raise the sale tax, said Mr. Ashley.
I was really hoping that they would raise the county sales tax from seven to eight percent, he said.It would have meant a substantial amount of money for the city.
Unless that happens, Mr. Cosmo said the city will have to hold the line on providing basic services to its residents.
We will maintain the services at the level that we can afford to maintain them, he said.The basic services that we are required to maintain, those will be our priorities.