Status quo may not work

The recent dispute between Gloversville and the city of Johnstown over sewer revenue payments to the Gloversville-Johnstown Joint Wastewater Treatment Facility has cast doubt on the ability of the two city governments to share services. Johnstown, for reasons that are still not entirely clear, delayed its payments to the sewer plant for months and only finally made the payment, totaling more than $700,000, when Gloversville threatened to file a lawsuit.

The joint wastewater treatment facility has long been viewed as a mostly successful example of two municipalities sharing the burden of maintaining a basic service, but now it seems to be an example of how the diverging fortunes of the Glove Cities is putting increased pressure on the local political status quo.

Gloversville Mayor Dayton King has called out Johnstown’s government for having a fiscal problem it isn’t being transparent about. King has also taken the highly unusual, and controversial, step of calling for candidates to challenge Johnstown Mayor Vern Jackson and Treasurer Mike Gifford. Jackson has stated King should stay out of Johnstown’s politics, and we suspect most Johnstown citizens agree with him.

We think King’s comments are good politics in Gloversville, which has faced fiscal difficulties for decades, and bad politics in Johnstown, which, until recent years, has had the advantage of being able to maintain its city services without steep property tax increases due to sales tax revenues gained from the city’s Route 30A commercial corridor. After the Walmart Supercenter was built in Gloversville, the fortunes of the two cities seem to have reversed, with Gloversville either reducing property taxes or keeping them flat for each of the past six years, while Johnstown has gradually increased taxes, including a 9 percent jump for 2017.

King is probably the wrong person to inspire a taxpayer revolt in Johnstown, but we wonder why no one else has stepped forward to do so. Johnstown has long seemed a city governed almost on auto-pilot, with few hotly contested elections and few open debates during Common Council meetings.

In December, Gloversville projected it would have a $5.5 million fund balance for 2017, while Johnstown, due to flat sales tax revenue, has seen its reserves dwindle to $1.2 million.

Gloversville now projects it could use its reserves to reduce property taxes by 2 percent for 2018 and hold property taxes flat until 2021. According to Gloversville’s five-year financial plan, the city’s expenses, without tax increases, would exceed revenues by $1.2 million in 2018, $1.6 million in 2019, $2.1 million in 2020 and $2.5 million in 2021, still leaving Gloversville with $1.4 million in reserves, about where Johnstown says it is now.

We challenge Johnstown Treasurer Gifford to follow Gloversville’s example and produce a five-year financial projection for the residents of his city, so when they go to the polls in November, they will be able to make an informed decision about Johnstown’s future. Johnstown is only at about 47 percent of its state constitutional taxing limit. Gloversville is at 89 percent. It remains to be seen how far Johnstown’s taxpayers are willing to go before they’re willing to consider consolidation.

By Patricia Older

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