‘Nothing To Lose’

Jamestown officials may soon be asking for an extra set of eyes to review municipal finances and operations.

On Monday, Mayor Sam Teresi discussed the new state Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments during a City Council work session. Teresi said the new board was established in the state budget earlier this year as a voluntary program to assist municipalities by reviewing their finances and operating techniques. Teresi said he, along with other officials throughout the state, were part of discussions earlier this year with Gov. Andrew Cuomo that led to the formation of the board.

Upon request from Teresi, with City Council’s approval, the board will undertake a comprehensive review of the municipality’s finances and operations and then recommend ways to improve its fiscal stability and the delivery of public services. If recommendations made by the board are accepted, up to $5 million per municipality will also be available. The board may also serve, upon joint request from a local government and municipal union, as an alternative binding arbitration panel.

Teresi said it is a proactive step for city officials to ask for assistance from the state board.

”There is nothing to lose; only positives to gain,” he said. ”There is always more that can be done.”

Teresi said there are two qualifying points for assistance. The city meets one of the qualifying points and, therefore, is an eligible municipality for review. The criteria the city meets is to be in the top 25 percent of all state cities in tax rate during the past five years. The second qualifier the city does not meet. The second criteria is to have a fund balance of less than 5 percent of operating expenses for the last five years. Teresi said the city’s fund balance, or savings, is at 9 percent. Teresi said many cities, unlike Jamestown, meet both qualifying points.

”There is no guarantee if we apply we will be accepted,” Teresi said.

Teresi said if the 10-member review board, headed by Robert Megna, state budgeting director, does assist Jamestown, all recommendations made are voluntary to accept. City officials do not have to accept any recommendations from the group, however, if they don’t they will not be eligible for any state money to implement new operating and financial management techniques.

Teresi said the state Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments is not the same thing as a state Financial Control Board, which takes over the operations of a struggling city.

”This is a volunteer program,” he said.

Teresi said another perk with assistance from the Financial Restructuring Board is it could act as a new form of binding arbitration between the city and its fire and police unions. Currently, both union groups are continuing to operate under expired contracts. Teresi said if the new board acts as arbitrators, the state pays the bill. Joseph Bellitto, Jamestown comptroller, said the arbitration process normally cost between $15,000 to $30,000 for each side.

Teresi said each side of the negotiations has to agree to the new form of arbitration for their ruling to go into effect. Also, the process will be done within six months, which is quicker than past arbitration hearings.

Jamestown City Council will vote to apply for review by the Financial Restructuring Board during its voting session Monday, Dec. 30.