August 6, 2014 —
PORT JERVIS, NY — Mayor Kelly B. Decker had a tough message—but also words of hope—to the city residents in the recent town meeting. He said, “Our revenues are down as people are not paying their taxes and other fees, as well as our county sales tax share is down by an extreme number. That reduces our revenues, while our expenses stay the same. I have met with our department of public works and our police, and I want to assure people that they are staying well within their budget, right on their target; but we are going to come out with a deficit, unless something drastically changes with the county tax share.”
He continued, “We are trying to stay within the tax cap of 2%; the city has come close to that. I have indicated that I want to stay below that cap.”
The state has started a program to cut taxes in which, if a town stays within the 2% cap this year and next year, and also comes to an agreement with a municipality nearby to share services, there will be rebates to the citizens—of an unknown amount.
“Of course citizens want that rebate check,” Decker acknowledged, vowing to make every effort to stay within the 2%, while saying the rebate amount is unknown. He continued, “If not, it will mean major cuts, causing major problems—[unless we can] think of alternative ways to bring in revenue.”
Decker explained all the things city taxes are used for. “Police and fire departments, public works, parks, recreation, senior programs, garbage, sewer and water are all funded from your taxes.” He continued, “It’s paying for personnel. It’s getting things done, getting you fresh water like the clarifier in the infiltration plant that’s still being paid for, fire trucks, police protection, parks, beautification of the city—the value you get from your tax is extremely high.”
Decker said he doesn’t want to cut personnel or programs, and is for raising more revenue instead.
One way is to start to charge for sewer and garbage separately, he said. They are now included in the tax bill. Another charge the city is considering is adding a fine to nuisance calls to the police or fire departments.
“We would do this if it’s abuse,” he said. Decker said the emergency services get between four and five nuisance calls per month from about six buildings in town.
“If somebody plays music loud, and the department gets called the fourth time when they have already been there and issued tickets, now you have a fee added on to the total,” he explained. The calls are considered a false alarm.
Another, innovative way to raise revenue for the city that Decker is considering is to hold the mortgage for the properties the city acquires from tax sales.
“We now auction them off, but we want people to live in them. We can hold the mortgage for, say, a young couple at a very, very low interest, say 3.5%, and they can live there and pay off their mortgage. It’s good for the city. We’re acting kind of like a banker,” he said.
Decker is also considering converting city-owned buildings for services that would generate perpetual revenue. Among the buildings is the Wells Building on Orchard Street that used to be Candy Warehouse.
“I have people interested in buying it at the moment, but if that won’t go through, we are considering renting it out with a long-term lease.” He declined to give the names of the prospective buyers.
Among other, longer-term plans to bring revenue to the city is the proposed Whitewater Park and the associated development of the area behind the old railway station. Decker proposes to convert it into a parking area for the park and the new shopping area planned nearby, hopefully financed by donations and corporate monies.
“If we end up using taxpayer dollars to pay for it, it will have to go to a referendum,” Decker acknowledged.