The City of Cortland Common Council unanimously approved (8-0 vote) the city’s 2022 budget at Tuesday’s meeting.
The 2022 budget for the city increases spending by close to $1.2 million. The $22.6 million spending plan will raise the annual salary of council members to $10,000, and include an added fee of 35.2 cents per foot of street address frontage to fund stormwater system preservation projects.
The next year’s budget increased to $22.6 million from this year’s $21.4 million spending plan. It also raised the tax levy to $9,297,300, a 2% increase from the $9,115,000 levied in 2021.
“I’m very pleased with the final budget, because we put forward a balanced budget,” City mayor Brian Tobin told the Cortland Voice in an exclusive interview after the meeting. “It takes in reasonable and appropriate revenues, and all of the expenditures are appropriate.”
The budget also included a raise for the mayor from $25,000 to $30,000 a year, and a raise for members of the council from $5,000 to $10,000 a year. The council voted 5-2 to reject the proposal that would raise the mayor’s yearly salary. Council members William Carpenter (D-6th Ward) and Troy Beckwith (D-7th Ward) voted in favor of raising the mayor’s salary. Jackie Chapman (D-1st Ward) was absent during the vote, but she joined the meeting later in.
The council ultimately rejected (via a vote of 2-6) a similar resolution that would ground the salaries of council members at $5,000. Only Katie Silliman (D-2nd Ward) and Chapman (voted against the council member raises.
Silliman said she was concerned about not having concrete guidelines for city legislators.
“I cannot in good conscience vote to pay council members more when we don’t have outlines for what our duties are and what the minimum expectations are,” Silliman said. “People don’t even have to show up and they’ll still get paid. That to me is unconscionable.”
Tobin, whose term will expire at the end of the year, noted it is up to the council to set its own guidelines.
“There have been opportunities where in the past there has been discussion, but the city charter is clear that those expectations need to be set out by the council itself,” he said.
Council member Bruce Tytler (D-3rd Ward), whose term is set to expire at the end of the year, spoke in support of the raises.
“I think $5,000 the council is being paid right now is too little. I think it should be increased to $10,000,” Tytler said. He added, however, that he understands Silliman’s concerns regarding council members not showing up to meetings and collecting a salary. “It doesn’t happen very often and theoretically that could even happen with the mayor. Most of these people go into these positions with good intent and want to do what’s right for the community and so I think the common council is underpaid at $5,000.”
Council member Tom Michales (R-8th Ward) noted “projects are going to be assigned” to council members as part of the new mayoral administration. Michaels said he has held conversations on the subject with Republican Mayor-elect Scott Steve.
“The council next year is going to be a working council,” Michaels said. “Individuals that show up once a month or every two months, that’s not going to happen. They are going to be assigned projects to manage. We are probably going to be earning $10,000 more than you would be if you were on the council now.”
On mayoral raises, Silliman said Steve should show he can “earn it”.
“He is going to have a lot on his plate. He is a business owner, and he has got a large family. He is gonna be pulled in a lot of directions,” Silliman said. “Let’s see if he can do what he proposes to do with the position before he gets a $5,000 signing bonus.”
According to the supporting documents from Tuesday night’s common council meeting, the budget includes a $.352 fee per foot of street address frontage for parcels within city limits that would aid storm water system preservation, maintenance, repair, rehabilitation and construction efforts. The fee would also apply to SUNY Cortland and other entities such as churches and nonprofit organizations that typically have different tax arrangements. The council approved this resolution unanimously.
Silliman spoke in favor of the fee.
“I think this is a great idea and not at a great cost for property owners,” she noted.
Beckwith was concerned with enforcement of the fee.
“There is no legal thing that says they don’t have to pay this that you are aware of?,” he asked Tobin. “I mean some of them don’t pay taxes so where do you think you are gonna get this money from? How can you make nonprofits and churches that don’t pay property tax or any other tax, why are they responsible to pay this tax?”
Tobin noted the fee would be similar to a water or sewer bill as opposed to a tax.
Tobin said that he and the council are “leaving the city in a very good financial position” once Steve takes office at the beginning of next year and new council members are sworn in.
“The new mayor and council should be pleased that they’re getting a balanced budget that has good revenue projections and is going to cover all of the costs,” Tobin added.