Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick has released a 2013 city budget proposal that emphasizes cutting spending and increasing revenue to decrease the budget in the future.
Myrick’s proposal, which was released last Tuesday, intends to address the $3 million deficit Ithaca will face next year. A combination of mergers, 25 unfilled positions across city government and tax increases were highlighted in a press release for Myrick’s “strategic budget.”
City Controller Steven Thayer said most of Myrick’s proposals were intended for the long term, not specifically next year.
“For 2013, there’s no real change,” Thayer said. “Certainly in the future there will be changes.”
According to Myrick’s proposal, the controller’s office has refinanced the debt to take advantage of “historically low interest rates.” City Clerk Julie Holcomb said the city paid an interest rate of 0.3 percent in August, and that it currently has a good credit rating.
Myrick’s plan states that this refinancing could save the city $700,000 over the next 10 years.
One of the major aspects of Myrick’s plan involves the possible merging of the chamberlain’s department with the controller’s department and the merging of the building department with the planning and development department. The chamberlain and controller department mergers will come with the retirement of three department officials over the next five years — positions that will remain unfilled.
City Chamberlain Debra Parsons said that with or without the merger, the two departments have always worked as a unit. She said the issue is replacing the expertise of the potential retirees.
“Certainly there’s a lot of history and institutional memory and knowledge that will be eligible to retire within the next two to five years,” Parsons said. “If we can do this in a logical and thoughtful way, then those positions will not need to be filled once those people retire.”
Throughout the city government, about 25 positions will be vacated, including nine positions within the Ithaca Police Department, Holcomb said. The proposal recommends that three positions — two firefighters and an administrator within the building department — be eliminated.
However, Myrick’s proposal also calls for a number of new positions, including a “chief of staff” that will help manage the city’s internal functions and a “director of parking” who will manage parking responsibilities and enforcement between the police and public works departments.
Holcomb said the proposed parking director position will almost pay for itself within two years.
“We will increase parking revenues, being able to look at parking comprehensively instead of having it broken up into several different departments like it is right now,” Holcomb said.
Holcomb also said the “chief of staff” position is necessary for the mayor to manage the departments properly.
“Right now, the mayor’s job is way more than a full-time job,” Holcomb said. “It’s a two-person job, and I think the last several mayors have been trying very hard to say that.”
The proposal suggests a 2.72 percent tax increase for 2013, which Myrick said in the press release is below the property tax cap and lower than the 3.81 percent tax rate increase between 2009 and 2012. Myrick’s proposal also suggests adding $60,000 to the Planning Department toward obtaining grant writers and lobbyists.
Thayer said the town will hopefully get more outside funding through this route.
“What Myrick is looking to do is go after those opportunities for outside grant funding sources that we’ve been limited in recently,” Thayer said.
Holcomb said outside funds would go toward necessary city projects, such as Commons renewal, Cayuga inlet dredging and hydrilla removal, that city government currently does not have the money or manpower to fund by itself.
“We know we have a lot of things we have to do right now,” Holcomb said. “There’s an emphasis because Ithaca is starting to develop at a very nice pace. We need the revenue coming in, and sometimes you have to have money to make money.”