Time for professional city managers
This past year we’ve seen the following headlines in The Leader Herald:
∫ Johnstown Tax increase remains at 9 percent (11/04/16)
∫ Fulton County budget edges in with 1.6% increase (11/15/16)
∫ County approves 4 percent ‘bed’ tax (3/14/17)
∫ 3.5% levy hike facing voters in Johnstown (5/08/17)
∫ Panel approves ‘contract assessment’ – Fears countywide assessment would be voted down (7/11/17)
∫ County eyes law to override tax cap (7/13/17)
Let’s face it, we’re in a relentless downward spiral of ever increasing property taxes here in the city of Johnstown. In 2015, we suffered a citywide assessment revaluation taken on by a naive administration that couldn’t work with a 70 percent equalization rate and simply allow property appreciation to further dilute the equalization rate. Not a problem: spend $220,000 for an assessment revaluation that created as many new assessment boondoggles as it resolved and effectively created a citywide income redistribution plan where the south-end of Johnstown’s residential property owners subsidized the rest of the city’s property tax payers while many of the major commercial and industrial property owners cut quiet deals to mitigate much of the impact of the revaluation for their own benefit.
Let’s face it, taxes in the cities of Johnstown and Gloversville are now so high that past assumptions that your home is “your best investment” are no longer a sure thing. Home ownership in the cities of Johnstown and Gloversville has become a double-edged sword, especially when New York state’s “promise” of tax caps becomes elusive and can easily be overridden by the municipal bodies that were intended to be reined-in by said tax caps.
Let’s face it, our elected officials seldom see an opportunity to impose a new tax that they don’t seize upon. Last March, I saw our county supervisors approve the 4 percent “bed tax” by a vote of 19-0 in a vote that took less than three minutes flat . Apparently, any tax without a tax cap, must be a good tax.
Let’s face it, there’s a better chance that Fulton County’s future lies in the cannabis and yogurt industries and the quality and quantity of our water supply than there is that our retirements will be funded by our homes’ future appreciation, which is effectively capped by unbridled property tax increases and tax cap overrides.
Let’s face it, it’s hard to be POSI+IVE in Fulton County, New York with the dark clouds of higher property taxes over head threatening our futures and limiting our property appreciation.
What’s the solution? Is there any solution? Our two cities are big businesses and they deserve to be run like big businesses. It’s time for professional full-time city managers who are paid a living wage with fringe benefits commensurate with their job responsibilities. The “good times” have passed us by; we can no longer afford to elect our city’s top executive and give him/her a victory lap or two as a post-retirement “thank you.”
Johnstown’s 2017 city budget of $12.7 million is partially funded with $5.5 million derived from property taxes. The city’s taxpayers deserve accountability and performance from their elected officials. Competent full-time managerial oversite of our city merits compensation at least equal to that of our City Treasurer, Fire Chief and Police Chief? The city’s top executive needs to be more than the city’s head “cheerleader” and we deserve to get what we pay for, so let’s invest in our city’s future with a change in direction toward a full-time appointed City Manager who works with our common council and mayor on fiscal consolidation matters where they’re advantageous to all parties. Indeed, the City Manager is responsible to be accountable to our elected officials and through them to our taxpayers.
Our elected council and mayor would have the authority to replace the City Manager if he/she doesn’t measure up to the challenge. Our City deserves a better, sharper, clearer, POSI+IVE vision for the future. We can’t expect to balance our city budget solely from additional sales tax revenues generated by allowing more used car dealerships along Route 30A where there is already so much traffic congestion that it’s a major challenge to turn left and cross the busy traffic near a traffic light.
THOMAS W. SUYDAM
The author grew up in Gloversville and is now a retired NYS licensed certified public accountant and real estate broker. He has been a resident of the city of Johnstown since 1984.