Rochester Mayor Thomas S. Richards said he will be focusing on the input he received from this year’s Voice of the Citizen (VOC) community discussions to help him make his final budget decisions.
Richards released the City’s report on this year’s VOC Tuesday.
“I want people to be aware of the serious fiscal issues facing our City government,” Richards said. “These sessions provided an opportunity for citizens to educate themselves about the situation and provide their feedback about how we should proceed.”
Richards hosted the VOC budget discussions to obtain community input and to communicate information regarding the City’s budget. He says the sessions gave citizens an idea of the types of decisions the City must make in trying to close its $28 million budget gap.
One VOC session was held in each city quadrant, with the final session occurring at the Adams Street Community Center on April 3. Community input was also received via an online survey.
In addition to asking what people think about the City’s programs and services in relation to their value, the Mayor and City Budget Director Christopher Wagner provided a detailed presentation of the City’s fiscal situation to help citizens better educate themselves about the circumstances and challenges facing the City.
“We began this year’s process with a gap of $42.7 million and-working with our unions-we have taken very aggressive steps that include long-term, systemic budget changes to reduce that to the current $28 million,” said Richards. “That is still a very large number and cutting programs and services at that level will cause pain.”
At the VOC meetings, City Budget Director Christopher Wagner provided the details of the City’s budget and its challenges in his presentation entitled “Seeking Innovative Solutions.” After a re-cap of last year’s budget, Wagner laid out what he calls the factors for the City’s future fiscal health. Among them is a continued push for Rochester’s fair share of state aid, as well as efforts to control employee benefit costs, increase the City’s taxable assessment and seek mandate relief.
The Mayor and Budget Director also discussed the severity of the rise in employee pension costs. Those costs to the City have more than doubled since 2010 and are expected to peak at over $50 million two years from now. Options for deferring a portion of these costs through the state’s amortization program were discussed and are being considered. Employee healthcare costs will continue to rise as well, although an agreement between the unions and the administration will cap the City’s increase at 3.75 percent annually for three years.
About 100 people attended the sessions and 32 individuals took part in the online survey. The complete report and budget presentation materials can be found at www.cityofrochester.gov/vocbudget.