Members of the Albany City Council learned Monday that the city budget approved by the Budget Committee and headed to the council contained a six-figure error: The city is actually short an estimated $500,000 more than officials previously had thought.
City Finance Director Jeanne Yeager said during a council work session that the error was discovered after a Budget Committee member asked a question at a previous meeting.
“At the last Budget Committee meeting one of the board members said our transfers in weren’t equaling our transfers out,” she said. “In addressing that, we found we actually had done two, one-year budgets instead of one, two-year budget. We included the end fund balance twice so it made it look like we had more money to allocate than we did.”
The estimated $500,000 shortfall is separate from the approximate $1.7 million shortfall that's facing the Albany Police Department. In the first year of the budget, the department is expected to have a gap of $518,000, and in the second year, $1.2 million. Those deficits were filled in the budget by freezing one lieutenant position each year and a total of five officer positions over two years, as well as disbanding the department's street crimes and traffic units.
Yeager, who noted the mistake may have been a software error, said the new shortfall of approximately $500,000 will be filled from the city's contingency fund, which currently has $2.55 million.
“It’s what contingency is for,” she said, “We’re not pulling any additional money away from the departments. Nobody likes to make a mistake, but we’re glad we caught it before it went to council.”
Yeager informed the council of the error after members had spent nearly an hour discussing the possibility of exploring alternate revenue sources.
Mayor Sharon Konopa initiated the conversation, stating that the city had to look forward to future budgets and that property taxes would not sustain the city’s services.
“I don’t like us going down the path of us looking at cuts,” she said. “I think we need to sustain our level of service. This year, we’re squeaking by.”
Konopa suggested implementing a utility fee, raising planning fees or increasing franchise fees. Those suggestions came on the back of Councilor Rich Kellum’s list of money-saving ideas, which included shifting one of the libraries into a digital library, combining the parks and library departments, closing Maple Lawn preschool and increasing the cost of Fire Med, a program that allows residents to pay $65 a year to secure ambulance services rather than pay the higher costs associated with their health insurance.
Kellum also said the city should consider altering the Central Albany Revitalization Area — the city's urban renewal district — to have more of the money the district collects return to the city. Property values within the district are frozen and as property value increases over time, the difference between the frozen value and the new value goes to the district, not the city.
Kellum also said he was in favor of asking voters whether to implement a utility fee.
Councilor Bill Coburn agreed with Kellum and added that any fee the city proposed should be presented to voters with a specific purpose, such as funding the Police Department or the library.
“We can’t afford ourselves,” he said. “We have too big a budget and it costs too much. I’m frustrated that the first idea is to raise taxes.”