Thursday, May 24, 2007

D&C's article: Duffy's budget focuses on safety

Duffy's budget focuses on safety
Paying the bills
Below is a look at the typical homestead burden over the past 10 years.
  • 1997-98
    Typical home value: $59,200.
    Property tax: $1,052.58.
    Local works charge: $542.28.
    Total: $1,594.86.
  • 2002-03
    Typical home value: $54,900.
    Property tax: $1,126.55.
    Local works charge: $645.48.
    Total: $1,772.03.
  • 2007-08 (proposed)

    Average home value: $60,500.
    Property tax: $1,282.61.
    Local works charge: $779.84.
    Total: $2,062.45.
    Percent increase: 29.32
    Rate of inflation: 28.78
  • Closing the gap
    The city began budget season with a $31.3 million gap, reduced to $16.7 million by additional state aid. Below is how Mayor Robert Duffy proposes to make up the difference:
  • $6 million from reserves.
  • $3.1 million from increased enterprise fund including fee increases.
  • $2 million in reduced health insurance costs.
  • $2 million anticipated in RESTORE NY demolition funding.
  • $1.4 in departmental reductions.
  • $1.1 million from City School District to pay for School Resource Officers.
  • $1.1 million net in other changes.
  • What's next
    City Council has scheduled hearings, each beginning at 4 p.m. at City Hall, 30 Church St., to review the proposed 2007-08 budget:
  • May 29: Police and Fire departments, Emergency Communications.
  • June 1: Recreation and Youth Services, Library.
  • June 5: Community Development, Economic Development.
  • June 6: Environmental Services, Information Technology.
  • June 11: City Council/City Clerk, Administration, Finance, undistributed.
    A public hearing on the city and school district budgets is 7 p.m. June 13. City Council will meet to vote on the budgets beginning at 7 p.m. June 19. The first hour is reserved for public comment.
  • Read the budget
    The full budget is available online at
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    Proposal increases some fees, deeply restructures city spending

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    (May 19, 2007) — Mayor Robert Duffy rolled out $5.3 million in new spending initiatives on Friday, promising more police on the streets, expanded summer hours at branch libraries, weekend bus service to Durand-Eastman beach and more.

    The proposals — including significant investments to improve literacy and graduation rates — come without a property tax increase. But residents still will pay more.

    Meanwhile, the Liberty Pole concert series is scratched after one year, 20 city employees might lose their jobs and the light bulbs have been removed from all vending machines in city government buildings. Dimming those machines is expected to save the city $9,000 over the coming year.

    Duffy called his 2007-08 spending plan "a signature budget" for his administration; it's the largest restructuring of city spending in more than 20 years. The proposal redirects $9.4 million in spending (for perspective, that is more than the entire Ogden town budget), eliminates 73 positions, creates 73 new ones and transfers 139 full-time employees within city government.

    "This clearly is a budget that brings about change. And change is very, very difficult," the mayor said during a news conference at City Hall.

    "It's not an across-the-board win. It buys us another year to hopefully bring more stability and more growth to Rochester."

    While the city's property tax levy won't increase, a state-mandated shift in the tax burden means residents will pay 2.5 percent more, and businesses will pay 3.6 percent less. The city won't collect any additional money. But Duffy also wants to increase fees for water, refuse and local works — the latter boosted to increase snowplowing of city sidewalks.

    For the average homeowner with a $60,500 house, the combined increases will total $62 for the coming year. The average business worth $238,700 will pay $350 less.

    Duffy avoided having to raise the property tax levy with a one-time, $6 million transfer from city reserves.

    "I think it's great they're doing what they can" to minimize the financial impact on residents, said Joan Roby-Davison, executive director of Group 14621 Community Association Inc. But she added: "For people who are already at the margin, any increase in fees is going to serve the same purpose (as a tax increase)."

    The mayor's $442 million balanced budget proposal is 2.5 percent larger than the current year, which is less than the 2.9 percent rate of inflation. The proposal now goes to City Council, which has scheduled hearings throughout the coming weeks and a June 19 vote. The new budget year begins July 1.

    Keeping the peace

    Public safety dominates the new spending. In addition to 18 more police officers assigned to foot and bike patrols, including three taken from command positions, the city will deploy at least 28 surveillance cameras into troubled neighborhoods and buy two mobile command stations, allowing police and other city departments to operate out of those neighborhoods as well.

    While violent crime is down overall by 25 percent, homicides are outpacing last year.

    "We want a presence where people aren't only safe, but feel safe," Duffy said. "We can pull up to active drug corners and occupy that corner for as long as we want to. We could put awnings out, and tables and chairs."

    Police Chief David Moore is optimistic the new mobile command posts will be on the streets this fall. He said the mobile posts will be like one currently being used at the Lilac Festival, only bigger.

    "We'd want them to be more of an office than a command vehicle," Moore said.

    Meanwhile, the city is preparing for two massive recruit classes, promising to shuttle 100 new officers through the Police Academy in the year ahead. The last two classes numbered 28 and 38 recruits.

    The department has a large group of officers eligible to retire, andmany are expected to do so once the labor contract is settled.

    The budget, meanwhile, also includes money to bolster city security "road patrols" of public property including vacant lots and houses. The city has begun interviewing for 10 new positions. And there is money for a new downtown security force, to roll out this summer.


    Duffy has proposed opening all branch libraries on summer Saturdays for the first time in 50 years. All but the Lincoln and Arnett branches currently are scheduled to close on Saturdays from June 2 until Sept. 8.

    The budget includes money for literacy pilot programs at the Sully, Lincoln and Arnett branches. And, coupled with City School District money, there is $1 million to help Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection enroll 300 more students next year, helping to boost city graduation rates that trail the rest of the state.

    Inspections for lead-based paint hazards are expanded to the southwest and to the Beechwood neighborhood on the east side. And, by the start of next year, a proposed "One Call to City Hall" 311 center should finally be in operation.

    City Council President Lois Giess will shepherd the proposals through the upcoming budget hearings. While the budget represents, in many ways, the first true statement of the Duffy administration, for Giess — retiring at year's end after 22 years in city office — this budget will be her last.

    Strengthening neighborhoods and the Neighborhoods Building Neighborhoods program is the signature she wants to leave. Some measures already are in place. Giess pointed to policy changes, such as the administration returning neighborhood initiatives staff to the planning office.

    She said a federally funded Brownfield Clean-up Revolving Loan program, retooled and ready to start up again this year, will allow the city to be much more aggressive on the economic development front.

    "That's the only land we have to develop," she said of brownfields in the city. "If we want to attract new business, new industry, we're going to have to do cleanup."

    Cutting costs

    Not everything is positive.

    "We have pain in this budget," Duffy said. "We have layoffs. We have jobs cuts."

    Duffy has proposed eliminating the city historian, but reimbursing the State Historical Society to hire the person on contract. The additional 20 layoffs proposed are equal to those the city faced last year, when most employees were able to transfer to openings elsewhere in city government. Between four and six employees ended up without a job, officials said.

    Job cuts will hit animal control, which goes to an on-call service overnight. Neighborhood Empowerment Teams could reduce assistant administrators from full-time to part-time in the busy Norton Street and Lyell Avenue offices. Civilian jobs in the police and fire departments also are affected.

    Overtime allotted to the Fire Department is reduced, offset by the addition of about a dozen firefighters. Elsewhere, reduced health benefits for city management will save $1 million; negotiated health care savings with unionized employees translate to another $106,700.

    Duffy said that while some of the cuts are difficult, particularly the layoffs, "the status quo is not something we can ever live by."

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