Articles

Plattsburgh, N.Y., Poised to Cut IT Department, Among Others

The city's mayor said most of the duties would be absorbed by existing city departments, and was hopeful Clinton County could take over Information Technology.

by Joe LoTemplio, Press-Republican, Plattsburgh, N.Y. / July 27, 2017
Halseys Corners, Plattsburgh, N.Y. Flickr/Michael G

(TNS) -- PLATTSBURGH — In a move to fix serious budget problems, City of Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read is expected to propose cutting four city departments at Thursday's meeting.

On the agenda for abolishment are Engineering, Recreation, Human Resources and Information Technology.

The budget total of those four departments is about $1,367,257, but the mayor says the cuts, if approved by the Common Council, would save between $600,000 and $700,000 after it all shakes out.

Read said the moves would mean the loss of about six to eight jobs, but it was uncertain which employees those would be.

"We are still trying to work some of those details out, and I imagine it will be part of the discussion," he said.

BY EXISTING STAFF

Read said most of the duties would be absorbed by existing city departments, and he was still hopeful Clinton County could take over Information Technology.

Engineering duties would be taken over by the Community Development Office, Human Resources would be handled by the City Chamberlain's Office and Recreation would be folded into Community Development.

Information Technology duties would be handled by existing employees unless a deal with the county could be worked out.

'WHO DO WE HURT?'

The city is also working on a plan with the county for the latter entity to take over assessment services.

"I know what I am proposing is difficult, but I am open to any other ideas on how we can solve this budget plight," Read said.

The city must cut about $1.4 million from this year's budget, Read maintains, and make further cuts in the next few years in order to make finances solvent and bring the fund balance up to acceptable levels.

If cuts are not made to departments, the city could be looking at laying off as many as 40 workers, many of which are part-timers, Read said.

"Who do we hurt, 40 people or about a half dozen people?" he said.

"I am hopeful we can find jobs for those who are part of this."

LEFT IN THE DARK

Read's proposal seemed to catch some councilors off guard Wednesday afternoon when the agenda for the meeting came out.

"He (Read) has produced no backup information whatsoever about how this would take place or what the impact on the departments or services will be," Councilor Becky Kasper (D-Ward 5) said.

'We have no idea. This is shocking to see this."

Josh Kretser (D-Ward 6) also said the mayor had not told at least some of the council about his plans.

"At least four of us, as far as I know," he said.

"He has not discussed or collaborated with us about how to implement this."

UNKNOWNS

Dale Dowdle (R-Ward 3) said he did not know any details either.

"I guess you can add me to the list of uninformed," he said.

"There are a lot of unknowns."

Dowdle said he planned to meet with County Administrator Michael Zurlo on Thursday to find out more about how the county might be able to help the city.

Zurlo, who has been overseeing the state-mandated effort to share services within the county's municipalities, said no definitive plans for the county absorbing the city's information technology services have been made.

"Mayor Read, through the shared services panel, has had several discussions about IT, but it is not part of this plan," he said.

"Although it could be considered down the road."

'NEVER SEE THEM'

The mayor said he has offered to discuss budget cuts with the councilors on numerous occasions, but it seems that some of them do not want to participate.

"I've been fully transparent about this, and I invite them every week to come to my office but I never see some of them," Read said.

"What do they want me to do, go to their house?"

Councilor Michael Kelly (D-Ward 2) said he fully supports the mayor's budget cuts.

"I think the mayor has thought this through very carefully, and he is looking for ways to absorb these services, and I think it is going to be fine," he said.

"We just can't afford to go the way we've been going."

Kelly said he has visited with the mayor in his office many times and never had a problem getting information.

"If they (other councilors) don't want to go see him, then it is their loss," he said.

"I think it is irresponsible to not participate."

'SORELY MISTAKEN'

Engineer Kevin Farrington said he also knew little of the proposal until shortly before the agenda came out.

"I haven't seen any plan or proposal about how engineering services will be provided," he said.

Farrington, who has been the city engineer for 15 years, said eliminating the department and folding services into another one or contracting out for engineering services, would ultimately cost the city more.

"If anyone thinks they are going to save money by using outside contractors, they are sorely mistaken," Farrington said.

"This will result in a much more significant cost to taxpayers and a loss of services."

Farrington said he has cut the department budget by 13 percent this year and has been successful in obtaining numerous grants for the city over the years.

He noted that his department was instrumental in helping the city obtain a $10 million grant from the state as part of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative last year.

"There would be no DRI if not for the Engineering Department," he said.

WILL SEE IT THROUGH

Recreation Superintendent Steve Peters, who on Sunday took part in a rigorous contest in Lake Placid, said he did not feel comfortable talking about details of the mayor's plans just yet.

"I competed in the Ironman, so this is not the hardest thing I've had to deal with this week," he said.

"I am confident in my department's success and plans for the future, and I know we will see this thing through."

SHIFTING THE COST

County Legislator Mark Dame (R-Area 8, City and Town of Plattsburgh), who represents part of the city and is the county's Finance Committee chairman, said any plans to share services with the city need to be thoroughly hashed out by all parties.

"It would not be fair for all the towns in the county to pay for city services when they don't benefit from them," he said.

"I do believe there could be some savings to be found for the city, but, he said, can we do it to economy of scale?

"And the answer is not to just shift the cost to other taxpayers in the county."

©2017 the Press-Republican (Plattsburgh, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.