GLOVERSVILLE – The Gloversville Common Council Tuesday night cut the Gloversville Fire Department’s $2.7 million 2023 budget request by $144,000, cutting, at least for now, a proposal from Fire Chief Tom Groff to create an ambulance service within the department.
Gloversville Finance Commissioner Tammie Weiterschan said cuts made by the Council to Mayor Vince DeSantis’ $21.5 million 2023 proposed budget over the first two days of budget hearings now equal about $222,257.
“That’s almost a quarter of a million dollars,” 6th Ward Councilman Wrandy Siarkowski said.
“Yeah, we’re going to need a lot more quarters though,” 1st Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss said.
The Council is attempting to reduce spending to help tackle a projected $3 million budget deficit for 2023, while not increasing the city’s tax rate per thousand dollars of assessed value, currently $19.45, Gloversville’s lowest inflation adjusted tax rate since the mid-1990s.
Weiterschan and DeSantis have both said most of the deficit reduction will likely come from adjusting the city’s revenue projections. Currently the proposed 2023 budget includes zero growth for both property taxes and sales taxes.
DeSantis said the city’s revenues for property and sales taxes have exceeded the city’s budget projections for most of the last several years except during the heart of the worst part of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
During budget discussions Tuesday night 2nd Ward Councilman Art Simonds said he is skeptical the local and national economy will grow in 2023.
“I want to see if the magic of Gloversville is actually going to come through for us in the next half year, because right now I spend a lot of time looking at the economy, and I don’t like what I see,” he said. “We’re premising a lot on the idea that we’re going to have all of this extra revenue, but I don’t believe that. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think we’re going to be in a slow down for the next several years, and we have a lot of fixed costs around here, all of these [labor] contracts cost a lot of money.”
Weiterschan said the lion’s share of the cuts from the proposed fire department budget came from a $135,000 reduction to its overtime budget and then $5,000 from training schools and seminars and then another $5,000 from projected travel expenses and other budget lines for both the fire department and city building inspector.
Third Ward Councilwoman Betsy Batchelor said the fire department’s overtime budget was $65,000 in 2020 then it grew to $138,900 in 2021, went down to $125,000 in 2022 and for 2023 Groff and DeSantis have proposed $260,000 for overtime.
Groff said historically overtime costs have tracked with personnel shortages in his department, but for 2023 he’d like to grow the services provided by the Gloversville Fire Department.
“I added extra overtime to put an extra guy on the shift, when it falls short, so we can try to get into the ambulance business,” Groff said.
Several members of the Council immediately said “No,” as soon as Groff mentioned the idea.
“Tom, we’re looking at a $3 million deficit in our budget right now,” Simonds said.
“I’m not looking to toss [more spending], I’m trying to make some revenue by doing billing,” he said.
Groff said he believes both the city of Johnstown and Amsterdam have been able to offset fire department costs by creating an ambulance service, and with Fulton County offering a subsidy for the creation of municipal ambulance companies now is the time for Gloversville to establish that service.
The Council moved on from the ambulance discussion, but Groff made a second impassioned plea for the creation of an ambulance service at the conclusion of the budget hearing.
“I would really like you to look at [my ambulance proposal] objectively,” Groff told the Council.
Groff said there is a shortage of people who want to become paid firefighters and a growing shortage among volunteers, both good reasons to put fire department personnel to work as ambulance crews during their shifts.
“You should invest in your fire department, and I know you don’t want to hear it, but you should invest it and make it more robust,” Groff said. “If we can invest in firefighters providing an EMS service we will be able to cover our costs, make some revenue and have a dual purpose.”
The Council took no action on Groff’s ambulance service idea Tuesday night.