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Fulton takes the next steps to try to get back to fiscal stability

Gino Geruntino
WRVO News File Photo

New York state's Financial Restructuring Board released its review and recommendations for the city of Fulton, which in recent years has faced serious fiscal issues. City leaders say they plan to take the state's advice.

Since 2011, Fulton has raised its tax rate by more than 15 percent to make up for a decline in property values. It also slashed full-time staff from more than 150 employees down to 135.

Mayor Ron Woodward says the state couldn't find anywhere else for Fulton to scrimp and save.

"They didn't see any frivolous spending," Woodward said. "They do admit that due to the economy, you can't lose taxable value on your property and expect to have the same revenue. Just can't do it. You can't go from a factory job and start working at Burger King and expect the same money."

That's combined with rising pension and health insurance costs for the city's fire and police departments. Woodward says the departments might have room to trim, as long as minimum staffing levels are maintained. Right now, the city doesn't have a minimum staffing level required by a contract, but does maintain a minimum of eight firefighters per shift.

"I understand you have to have so many people to fight a fire, but I also understand that we have 34 or 35 firemen," Woodward said. "If I have five on staff and there's a major fire, they're calling them all in, anyway. It's not like you're firing everybody, except five guys a week."

According the the board's report, the city's expenditures per capita for both its fire and police departments are above the state average in upstate New York. It suggests there is room to renegotiate those contracts to prevent additional overtime costs and pull the city's spending more in line with the rest of New York.

The state is also asking Fulton to try to combine more services with the Oswego County. That includes letting the county take over Fulton's tax foreclosure process. And if the city follows the state's directions, it could qualify for grants to help with things like developing the former Nestle plant site.

Woodward says the coming months will be difficult, but he's optimistic the city can get itself back on the right track.

"I would hope to say that we have some reasonable contracts that are more affordable to people. I would hope that the city has achieved some development."

Woodward says he's already submitted a plan to the county about consolidating services, and that he'll soon begin the process of negotiating the city's union contracts.