Coping with rising costs

The city of Johnstown’s budget process this year brings to mind a quote from billionaire investor Warren Buffet, who once said, in reference to financial crises, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

In Johnstown the tide has been the city’s reliance on its ever-growing Route 30A sales tax advantage, but, when that source of revenue flat-lined — it revealed a city with a population half the size of Gloversville’s now struggling to maintain the ever-rising costs of a full-suite of city services including police, fire, DPW, a public library and a senior center.

It is apparent that Johnstown has been able to use its sales tax, which is still greater than Gloversville’s despite having nearly 7,000 fewer residents, to avoid many of the tough choices Gloversville has had to make over the years.

Now that the city of Johnstown has passed its 2017 budget, we suggest Mayor-elect Vern Jackson and the Common Council get to work figuring out how Johnstown can cope with rising costs without ever-rising sales tax revenue to pay for them.

In 2015 the city of Johnstown spent considerable time and effort forming a Charter Review Commission, which was chaired by Jackson, which produced some recommendations for how to change the city’s charter, but did little to address the city’s real problems — how to cut spending, how to right-size services to accurately reflect the city’s declining population and how to hopefully reduce property taxes, or at least avoid another large property-tax hike.

Perhaps the first act of Jackson’s new administration should be to form a new commission tasked with examining every line of Johnstown’s budget to find and eliminate unnecessary spending. One area the commission should look at first is the unnecessary premium-free benefits package provided the city’s part-time Common Council, which includes health, vision and dental. It may not be much money — right now only 2nd Ward Councilwoman Kathi Iannotti is accepting the free health insurance at a cost $10,705.80, and only 1st Ward Councilman Bradley Hayner is taking the free vision and dental at a cost of $532 — but it could be considerably more if new members choose to take the benefits. Past spending of providing free health insurance benefits to part-time employees is also symbolic of a spending culture in Johnstown that has been on autopilot for far too long.

The spending commission should also take a serious look at the potential savings from consolidating some services with Gloversville. Our review of Johnstown and Gloversville’s budgets revealed both cities pay starting police officers and firefighters  either the same or more than the starting pay for police and firefighters in New York City, one of the most expensive places in the United States to live. That just isn’t justifiable or sustainable for Fulton County.

By Chad Fleck

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