By Ashley M. Casey
After an emotion-filled public hearing, the Fulton Common Council approved the 2014 budget by a vote of 5-1.
The single dissenting vote was made by outgoing First Ward councilor Alan Emrich.
The property tax rate is set to increase 15.22 percent, bringing taxes to $19.66 per $1,000 of assessed value, up from $17.06 per $1,000 in 2013.
About two dozen people attended the public hearing Dec. 26. Several citizens spoke out against the $50,000 cut to the Fulton Public Library, which Mayor Ronald L. Woodward Sr. said could be picked up by taxes collected by the Fulton school district. (See sidebar story.)
Linda Rossiter, a librarian at the Fulton Public Library, listed several benefits of the library, including activities, crafts and homework help for children, and services for job-seeking adults.
“In times when money is extremely tight, your public library becomes one of your best assets,” Rossiter said. “(This cut) is not acceptable to nearly all of your community members.”
In a Jan. 2 phone interview with The Valley News, the mayor explained the city’s reasoning behind raising the pay of the city’s department heads, except for acting fire chief Paul E. Foster III.
Foster is paid per union contract negotiations, as he was deputy chief when Woodward appointed him acting chief.
“They mirror what the unions do,” Woodward said. “The department heads, along with the union, took a cut in pay over a three-year period.”
As for DPW Commissioner Dan O’Brien, who also heads the water and sanitation departments, Woodward said he is doing “the job of two people.”
“He is paid less than the last person who had that job eight years ago,” the mayor said.
At the public hearing, the mayor announced the budget will eliminate a cleaner position in the Municipal Building, but the employee is considering an offer to remain as a part-time or seasonal worker.
A clerical position in the clerk/chamberlain’s office is being transferred to the water department as well.
Legislator-elect Frank Castiglia Jr. said city officials need to “think outside the box” to ease the budget’s strain on the community.
He had several suggestions regarding city employees, including a 32-hour work week, city residency requirements and making all new hires part-time or seasonal employees.
However, Castiglia acknowledged it was too late to make many changes to the 2014 budget.
“Table this budget right now, go into an executive session, reconsider,” Castiglia said. “Go with last year’s budget because I know you don’t have time to go with anything else. Come up with something we can live with.”
Emrich also suggested the council to enter executive session to discuss it further, but the rest of the council and the mayor declined.
Council President and Fifth Ward Councilor Norman “Jay” Foster questioned Emrich’s “no” vote and asked what ideas Emrich had for the budget.
“You say no to that, but you don’t have any ideas,” Foster said. He also claimed that Emrich had been absent from three meetings in the last year, while Emrich said he had only missed one.
Emrich stood by his decision in his final statement as councilor.
“Every time I’ve voted yes or no, I’ve done it for what I feel is in the city’s best interest,” Emrich said. “I hope that other people will feel inspired to go with what is not necessarily the most liked answer.”
Foster later apologized for his “outburst” toward Emrich, saying, “I care very much for Fulton. I want the very best for it.”
At the Jan. 1 reorganizational meeting of the Common Council, Second Ward Councilor Dan Knopp was elected the new council president.