SYRACUSE -- City leaders recently approved an operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, even as they continued talks about potential budget cuts, a tax increase and a truth-in-taxation hearing set for Aug. 9.
City councilmen unanimously approved an operating budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year after more than an hour of public input. The operating budget allows the city to handle its expenditures until budget details are finalized, following a taxation hearing in August.
In an attempt to address deteriorating roads, city officials have proposed a 28.7 percent property tax increase as part of a $6.6 million budget. The city's fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.
City leaders have scheduled a June 30 special work session to continue discussion of road maintenance in detail and have made it clear they are open to suggestions about how to more efficiently operate the city.
That discussion includes the possibility of the Syracuse Fire Department joining the North Davis Fire District, said Mayor Jamie Nagle.
In 2004, Syracuse was one of five cities to discuss merging into a combined fire district in the northern part of the county. In the end, only Clearfield and West Point merged to form the district.
In an effort to get the city's fiscal house in order, Nagle said, $2.2 million in expenses has been cut from the budget in the past two years. A cost-of-living adjustment for employees, in the new budget plan, is an effort to reward them for their efforts, she said.
"I can tell you with 100 percent assurance, our employees are doing so much more with so much less."
Still, many residents urged city leaders to find another means of funding road repair.
Resident Tom Waggoner called the proposed 28.7 percent tax increase out of the realm of reality.
Waggoner, who was mayor of Clearfield during the fire district talks before moving, said city leaders should consider bonding for road repair. He also urged reconsideration of joining the NDFD, saying it would save costs in equipment and manpower.
Nagle said, with $18 million of indebtedness from past bonds still on city books, it is difficult to consider bonding for another project.
Resident John Lewis also spoke out against the tax increase. "The magnitude of what you're talking about, it's unacceptable."
Resident Bob Park spoke of the struggle of feeding his family in the current recession and said using new taxes to address a problem would take away his freedom. He called the proposed tax increase "garbage."
The public hearing had a political edge to it at one point.
Joni Panucci, wife of former Mayor Fred Panucci, asked Nagle to explain the real costs in 2009 of repairing 2700 South, which cost almost $1 million and was over the budgeted amount. Panucci said the project took place under Nagle's watch.
Councilman Alan Clark came to Nagle's defense, explaining details of the project.
He said there was no waste of funds involved in the repair and described the project as an inappropriate bid.
Public Works Director Michael Waite later added that original work for the repair was supposed to be $1.2 million but was scaled down because it was hard to sell the public on the cost.
When work began, he said, officials found the road had been poorly built and needed more structural help than first thought.