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Hudson starts to contemplate coming service cuts

Jan 24, 2011 6:46 am
The City of Hudson is starting to worry about its budgeting process for the coming year. The Register-Star has a report this morning on the city finance committee's first meeting of the year last Tuesday, January 18, where City Treasurer Eileen Halloran said that the possibility of a 2 percent property tax cap proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo will force the city to start discussing what services they could reduce or eliminate in the coming months, for both the current and coming years.

“What are essential and non-essential services? What would people tolerate less of as money is tight?” asked Halloran. “We’ve got to start thinking about where we can cut to hold the line on property taxes ... We should start talking about it right away.”

Halloran and the committee, however, strongly stressed the importance of gathering as much public opinion on any possible cuts as possible.

Some possibilities she used as examples would be cutting down on maintenance of the City Hall building; only picking up recycling once a month; only collecting trash every other week; and altering the snow removal process.

“We may all have to reset our expectations,” said Halloran.

Alderman Abdus Miah, D-Hudson2, said bringing in more revenue would solve more problems than cutting or reducing services.

“I believe that we should look at bigger income,” said Abdus.

Halloran and committee chair Alderwoman Sarah Sterling, D-Hudson1, argued that you can’t have it both ways — but Common Council President Don Moore begged to differ.

“It’s a little premature to say we can’t have one or the other,” said Moore. “We have to look at both, and we need to start now — where we can cut, but also where we can raise money.”

He noted that bringing in revenue is always a “slower process” than cutting expenditures.

“Necessity you cannot cut,” said Miah. “You cannot cut snow removal and garbage (pickup).”

Halloran stressed the importance of being realistic with tax payers when it comes to what “tax correction” will mean for the city and the state as a whole.

“I don’t think we can let people believe there won’t be some shared pain,” said Halloran.

In addition to cutting services and boosting revenue, Halloran said another key principle to keep in mind when talking budgets is to add more property to the tax base, and “find some non-traditional ways” of accomplishing this.

Regarding a 2 percent property tax cap, county Board Supervisor Bill Hughes, D-Hudson4, said he fears Gov. Cuomo is “putting the cart before the horse” when it comes to shifting tax burdens to the municipalities. It’s for this reason that it’s more important than ever to have a game plan in place, he noted.

“I don’t think it’s fair to impose a 2 percent property tax cap and then say, ‘Let’s see how much (municipalities) have to cut,’” said Hughes.

Halloran echoed that the property tax cap is impossible to carry without cutting jobs, which translates to cutting services.

The discussion then quickly shifted to the subject of shared services, with Moore asserting that it may be in the city’s best interest to consolidate certain services with the Town of Greenport.

“It’s a huge issue to raise, but it needs to be raised ... what (Hudson) and Greenport could do together,” said Moore. “Both Hudson and Greenport win if we were to allow that — not just on issues of taxes,” but also sewer and wastewater treatment.

The city missed its chance on the sewer-wastewater consolidation between Hudson and Greenport, it was noted by several in attendance, with new treatment plants currently in the works for both jurisdictions. Hughes noted that a “golden opportunity” for a shared senior center between Hudson and Greenport was also passed up last year.

Halloran was supportive of the idea of shared services with other municipalities, but noted she’d like to see “some successes” first, including the yet-to-happen consolidation of the city trolley bus service and the Greenport Shopping Shuttle.

The city cut the trolley bus service out of the 2011 budget completely, with a new consolidated service set to begin on Jan. 1. The consolidation has yet to officially take place and a new schedule has not been finalized.

“I hope all the supervisors in Hudson push hard in the county and not take no for an answer when it c

omes to shared services,” said Halloran. “Just look at the bus — why the county didn’t get that done is beyond me. We need successes. The bus ought to be one, and garbage pickup ought to be another.”

Alderwoman Ohrine Stewart, D-Hudson4, questioned what would have happened if the city canceled its auto insurance on the buses in anticipation of a Jan. 1 start date for the consolidation.

Among other topics discussed at finance committee:

* The online credit card payment system for city taxes is up and running, with Halloran citing “some subscribers” utilizing the service. One problem, however, is that some people find the convenience fee to be rather high: roughly 2.8 percent of the payment (which goes to the credit card company and not the city). Halloran said she is currently working with the software provider and Bank of Greene County to set up electronic check payment for a flat fee of $4.
* Various resolutions involving fund transfers were introduced, including one which indicated insufficient funds in the employees and police retirement budget line for 2010. Surplus funds from the hospital and medical insurance and cemetery lines were transferred to New York State retirement and monies from industrial development, accountant fees and printing and advertising were moved to New York State Police retirement.