By Ashley M. Casey
The New York state Fiscal Restructuring Board on June 30 released its suggestions on how to get the city of Fulton out of fiscal stress.
The city is eligible for as much as $400,000 in state grants if it meets the board’s conditions, but Mayor Ron Woodward said some of the recommendations aren’t feasible for Fulton.
One of the board’s major recommendations is to consolidate services provided by the city, the Fulton City School District, Granby, Volney and Oswego County.
“There is significant duplication of services among the City of Fulton, its direct governmental neighbors, and the County of Oswego,” the report reads.
The report goes on to suggest that Fulton develop a shared services plan with Oswego County to reduce these duplicated services and their costs, namely the handling of unpaid property taxes.
The restructuring board says the city of Schenectady and Schenectady County entered into such an agreement. If Fulton and Oswego County do the same, Fulton could save $225,000 a year.
Currently, the city of Fulton is responsible for its own property tax foreclosures and must “make whole” the county that annual sum of $225,000 for unpaid property taxes.
Mayor Woodward said the city of Oswego is also responsible for making the county whole with these taxes. The county handles foreclosures for the towns and villages.
“If they do it for us, they’ll have to do it for Oswego,” Woodward said. “It would cost them.”
If the county did take over foreclosures, then the situation would be reversed: Oswego County would have to make up the difference for Fulton.
“I’m willing to have them do that, but are we going to get punished if the county says no?” Woodward said.
Grant money available
The restructuring board has $400,000 in grant money available to Fulton if the city meets certain conditions.
The largest grant of $250,000 is for asbestos abatement, demolition and redevelopment of the former Nestlé property. The city will see this money only if Carbonstead LLC’s deal with Aldi falls through and the city forecloses on the property.
A $100,000 grant is available to “help defray the costs of extending sewer infrastructure” to encourage new businesses to open in Fulton.
Woodward said the board’s suggestion to offer tax credits to incoming businesses is a short-term fix and will hurt existing businesses.
“To just bring in (a business) 10 years tax-free — I don’t see how it will help,” he said. “Competition is a good thing if everybody’s competing at the same level.”
The state will offer Fulton a $50,000 grant to revise the Comprehensive Master Plan, which would “reinvent the municipality with a five-, 10-, and 20-year roadmap for the future.”
Woodward said this process involves zone changes throughout the city, which Fulton is already pursuing.
“You add new types of zoning to make businesses more attracted to places they weren’t allowed before,” he explained.
A recent example is the proposed C-2 Commercial to C-2A Commercial for the city blocks surrounded by Rochester Street, Route 481, East Broadway and South First Street. This would allow for mixed residential and retail use.
Woodward said the city would be able to update the Comprehensive Master Plan easily — and for less than $50,000 — but the state’s recommendations are missing the point.
“They’re good recommendations if they’re doable. It’s frustrating,” he said. “These little things we’re talking about doing don’t even scratch the surface of the issue.”
The state has found that Fulton spends more per capita on fire and police protection than 48 other cities in Upstate New York.
In 2013, Fulton spent $272 per capita on fire protection, compared to the Upstate median of $172. As for police protection, Fulton spent $255 per capita in 2012 as opposed to the median $224.
The state report also says Fulton has too many police officers: there are 34 police employees for the 11,776 people that lived here in 2012.
According to a ratio from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, a city this size only requires 25 police officers.
Woodward told The Valley News that the restructuring board is counting the Fulton Police Department’s administrative employees as well as its officers; if the administrative employees are not counted, Fulton’s numbers are on track with the IACP’s calculations.
As Woodward has said, the money is in the people when it comes to public safety in Fulton. He said the majority of the city’s money troubles stem from the growing costs of health insurance and pensions for city and union employees.
The restructuring board recommends that if the upcoming public safety union negotiations enter arbitration, the arbiter should give the city of Fulton 70 percent of the weight of its decision, given the city’s fiscal struggles.
But Woodward said he is hoping it won’t have to come to that.
“I’m hoping nothing goes to arbitration … that cooler heads prevail,” he said. “I’ve talked to the president of both unions. They want to help. They want to sit down and work it out to relieve the burden.”