Citing declining mortgage taxes, rising pension and health care costs, increasing contractual obligations, failing infrastructure and the loss of sales tax revenue from Onondaga County, Cicero Supervisor Jim Corl called this budget cycle the toughest ever.
“In my opinion, this is the most difficult budgetary cycle in the history of the town of Cicero,” Corl said. “Reliance on almost $1 million of fund balance last year to balance the budget along with the loss of over a half million dollars in sales tax imposed on us by the county was devastating.”
However, he said, with the help of former Onondaga County Chief Fiscal Officer James Rowley, this year’s budget should put Cicero on the path to fiscal solvency.
“Jim was instrumental in meeting with the board and putting together a budget that’s going to put us back on the right path,” Corl said. “This budget is part of a long-term fiscal strategy for the town of Cicero. I don’t expect to see too many changes to it.”
Made available to the public on Thursday, Oct. 4, the tentative 2013 budget is $11,481,093, up 4.71 percent from 2012’s budget of $10,964,724. Of that amount, $6,916,471 must be raised through property taxes. That’s up 5.5 percent from last year, or $18.76 per $100,000 of assessed value.
“This year the town of Cicero has found itself on the brink of a financial crisis,” Corl wrote in his budget release. “The past years of raiding the fund balance, awarding generous contracts, and now the loss of sales tax revenue to the tune of $600,000, have created the financial situation we now face. In preparing the 2013 budget, my goals were simple: 1. Reduce the cost of government 2. Maintain the current level of services for town residents 3. Invest in our infrastructure 4. Keep taxes manageable with a strategic view of the town’s financial future.”
Several departments attempted to trim their budgets in order to lessen the impact on Cicero’s taxpayers. For example, the justice court, highway and parks department didn’t fills the position left when employees retired or left, better deals were negotiated for medical, workers’ compensation and liability insurance, drainage projects and the town garbage contract and several positions were consolidated. In addition, the budget does not designate any funds for the Brewerton revitalization project. The project has stalled in the last year or so. That move saves an additional $100,000 in the 2013 budget.
However, many departments saw increases in their salary budget lines, and contractual obligations increased almost across the board.
Corl blamed previous administrations for the latter.
“The increased contractual obligations that previous administrations have bound this town add to our dilemmas,” he said. “[They] will cost the town in excess of $120,000 over 2012.”
Another expense in the 2013 budget, one Corl said couldn’t be avoided, is $800,000 in the paving budget line. After a thorough review of the town’s 130 miles of roads, nearly a quarter need to be reconstructed.
“In recent years, the town has done work on approximately two to three miles per year,” Corl said. “At that rate, we will not make headway, and our roads will continue to crumble.”
Corl said it is imperative that the project be undertaken as soon as possible to prevent further deterioration.
“Waiting even just a couple of years to fix roads would result in a dramatic increase in costs,” he said.
In addition, Corl was reluctant to take any more money from the town’s fund balance to offset taxes, as he said too much had already been used in recent years.
“We must wean ourselves from continued reliance on balancing the town’s budget on the savings account,” he said. “In the last five years, the town has balanced the budget by relying on more than $5 million of fund balance. This is unsustainable.”
Corl’s tentative budget would use $465,908 of the town’s fund balance, down from $900,000 in 2012.
Corl said he doubted there would be changes to this budget as presented.
“This will provide a sound groundwork so we can stay under the state tax cap for the 2014 budget,” he said. “We’ve had so many meetings and worked so hard on this. I think it’s pretty solid.”
There will be a public hearing at the Oct. 10 meeting to discuss a local law to exceed the 2 percent property tax cap for the budget. The public hearing on the budget itself has not yet been set.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.