By Ashley M. Casey
Three people spoke during the Fulton Common Council public forum Dec. 3 to express their concerns about the state Comptroller’s recent audit of the city of Fulton.
Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli deemed Fulton in “moderate fiscal stress” after the city’s available fund balance dropped 84 percent.
“As CEO, the mayor’s managing the city well. The council’s making good budget decisions. The chamberlain’s handling the money well,” said Dennis Merlino. “I can’t imagine there’s anything else to cut.”
Merlino asked if the state would be willing to accept budget cuts on state mandates, but Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr. explained the bulk of Fulton’s budget covers benefits for city employees.
He said in 1986, such costs comprised 40 percent of the city’s budget; today, they make up 70 percent.
“The lucrative laws for public employees that the state has put into place have got to change,” Woodward said.
He added he would ask the state’s Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments if there are any legislative solutions, but said state leaders are out of touch with the financial challenges small cities such as Fulton are facing.
“They mean well, but I don’t think the people who sit at the top really know what’s going on,” Woodward said. He said he and the council are striving to improve Fulton’s situation, adding, “That’s why we ran. That’s why we live here.”
Woodward said other cities are facing similar issues, such as Oswego, Owego and Syracuse.
Josephine Farrell said she had written a letter to the state suggesting improvements for local budget cuts, but received no response. She asked the mayor if the comptroller’s recommendations were of any value to the city.
“Were they anything you couldn’t have come up with on your own?” she asked.
The mayor said no.
Woodward said the state suggested that city offices shut off their computers at night to save on energy costs, which the city already does.
Fulton may be eligible to apply for grants or loans of up to $5 million through the Local Government Performance and Efficiency Program as part of the Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments assistance.
The newly elected 25th District county legislator, Frank Castiglia Jr., said he was wary of the possibility of accepting money from the state.
“It’s okay to dance with the devil and listen to what the devil tells you during the dance, but if you let the devil take you home, then you’re in trouble,” Castiglia said. “I know the council wants to save the city, but what’s it going to cost the taxpayers?”
Woodward said the Financial Restructuring Board’s review process would take six months, and the incoming Common Council would vote on the state’s recommendations.
Ethics Committee appointees
In accordance with a New York state mandate, the Common Council has created an ethics committee of five members.
Donald Ross, Josephine Farrell, Charles Marks, Dena Michaels and Dennis Merlino were appointed to the ethics committee.
Third Ward councilor Peter Franco spearheaded the yearlong committee development process.
“These were the best (people) to start it off,” Franco said after the meeting. “They’re upstanding citizens, pillars of the community and involved in the community.”
The Common Council and the ethics committee have drafted an ethics document based on a state model. The committee will meet periodically. Meeting dates have yet to be determined.
“They will entertain complaints about any (city) employees, elected officials, appointed officials,” Franco said. “They will investigate the complaint, find out if it’s valid, and recommend remedies for that.
The committee members will serve staggered terms of one to three years to keep “continuity of members,” Franco said.
Woodward called the ethics committee “wonderful,” and several councilors expressed their gratitude to the appointees for taking the time to devote to the new committee.
Also on the agenda
The council approved a Resolution of Respect for late Valley News publisher Vince Caravan. “The Mayor and members of this Common Council share a deep sense of loss with the family of the late Vincent R. Caravan and do, with the deepest regret, take official notice of the loss of this very special man,” the resolution read.
The mayor declared 2013 as Tree Growth and Care Year, and the council approved the decision to apply for grants from the DEC for tree maintenance and pest prevention.