GENEVA — The Port 100 co-working site was an initiative hatched by the city three years ago as a way to enhance the city’s entrepreneurial culture.
In 2018, the city provided Port 100, on Castle Street, $26,487.
However, under the 2020 budget adopted this past week by City Council, it will get no funding after city staff previously recommended it receive $9,000.
Port 100 was not alone. Several other agencies saw their recommended allocations either shrink or disappear under the spending plan. Only Fourth Ward Councilor Ken Camera voted against the budget, adopted in a special meeting Wednesday.
The leader of the co-working site appeared stunned by the development.
“I’m incredibly disappointed that City Council has failed to see the economic benefits of Port 100, and my peers in leadership in Geneva feel the same,” said Port 100 leader Maureen Ballatori, whose company, 29 Design, operates out of the space. “Port 100 has contributed immensely to commerce in Geneva since its inception in 2016. This is an initiative that directly and specifically aligns with the city of Geneva’s strategic plan. And city officials recommended that Council should fund Port 100 in 2020, so we were shocked when Council went against the city’s recommendation and chose to pull all funding.”
Ballatori said the organization is “actively seeking other sponsors to support Port 100 and its current and future economic development impact on our region.”
The decision to pull funding from Port 100 as well as other partner agencies was started, at least publicly, during a budget work session in late September, when Council debated the merits of many of the agencies in terms of community impact and other issues, such as redundant services.
City Manager Sage Gerling said her administration provides the preliminary budget legwork and Council takes it from there.
“We make recommendations and they have the final decision of where they want to go” with partner agencies, she said Friday, two days after Council adopted the $27 million spending plan — including general, water and sewer funds.
As for Port 100, Gerling said it was always the goal to make the co-working site self-sustaining.
The tax rate under the adopted budget is $17.23 per assessed thousand, three cents lower than in 2019. According to the city, a homeowner with a property assessed at $100,000 would pay $1,723 in taxes.
The 2020 tax levy — the amount to be raised by taxes — is about $7,022,573, a less than 1 percent increase over the 2019 levy of $6,976,885. This would be under the state tax cap, said the city.
The sewer fund increases 5.7 percent, while the water rate would go up 8.5 percent. The hikes are rising, said the administration, because of decreasing consumption and increasing maintenance costs. The city budgeted $5,000 for the Seneca Watershed Intermunicipal Organization, with half coming from the water fund and half from the sewer fund.
Here’s the rundown of other partner agencies that were cut under the adopted budget:
• BluePrint Geneva, which received $3,000 in 2019 and which staff had recommended receive $2,500, will receive nothing from the city in 2020.
The non-profit, which, among other initiatives, was providing free tax return preparation for low-income city residents, was hoping to get additional funding for a summer youth gardening program for teens, which Blueprint leader Jackie Augustine said was “exactly what they keep saying they want to fund. That was part of my point at the last meeting (Oct. 3), (that) they don’t take the time to look at proposals and consider how they fit with the stated objectives. … It just confirmed my feelings that they don’t do their homework and the community suffers as a result.”
Other agencies that lost all city funding after being earmarked for money by the administration in the proposed budget include the Center of the Finger Lakes, original recommendation, $5,000; Colony Caregivers, original recommendation, $1,500; and Ontario County Justice Coalition, original recommendation, $1,150.
Some agencies got additional funding. The Geneva Family YMCA was earmarked to receive $16,875, and Council upped the number to $22,500. The Geneva Area Chamber of Commerce, which the administration recommended receive $5,000, will receive $10,000, which was the amount the agency requested.
The chamber plans to use some of the funding to create promotional brochures.
Meanwhile, the Smith Center for the Arts had funding restored to its 2019 allocation of $11,000, after the administration recommended $6,000 in the proposed budget.
Gerling said there were tough choices to make, but she is satisfied with the final product.
“We met all of our budget goals, and we did have a lot of give-and-take this year,” she said. “Overall, I feel very good about the budget.”
She noted that all city departments made budget sacrifices this year, and that the burden didn’t just fall on outside agencies.
Camera and Fifth Ward Councilor Jason Hagerman were the only council members to respond to emailed requests for comment by the Finger Lakes Times.
Hagerman expressed mixed feelings about the spending plan.
“I am pleased that City Manager Gerling provided another budget without increasing the property tax rate,” he said. “I am concerned with some of the cuts for partner agency requests, and I’m certain Gerling would enjoy additional funding to aggressively pursue some of her priorities. The next council will be challenged to continue advancing Geneva and leadership will be key.”
Camera was not happy with how the budget turned out.
He stated in an email to the Times that “most of the eight years I have been on Council, the budget process has also been virtually a symbol. The city management proposes and the nine council members pick over it, talking at length about little things — as if the price charged for Freedom of Information requests will have a major impact on a $19-plus million general fund budget plan. Meanwhile, major issues are glossed over or, worse, not discussed at all. The Council fiddles, while its finances burn. If the city manager is looking for guidance, there are mainly voices for dissembling. Big ideas seem to float around looking for a home until they wander off the end of the table and fall to the floor.”
Camera pointed to some concerns:
• He said the tax rate must adjust to be in line with surrounding communities. “There are only two ways to achieve this,” he said. “Reduce spending or increase the tax base. This budget process never confronted this core issue in any substantive way.”
• “We made minor cuts to little things, like the paltry sums dedicated to organizations that work on the quality of life in our city. But we never fully debated questionable spending already embedded in the budget plan, including the $80,000 per year we are saddling future Genevans with by bonding a new, unneeded lakefront marina. Boat slips sit unrented at every marina on the lake and yet we build on.”
• “We cringe at the thought of cutting the city’s token summer recreation program, but quietly subsidize ice skating for Hobart and William Smith hockey and relatively small cohort of local skaters to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars each year.”
Camera said he remains “concerned with the lack of urgency with which we are attacking the structural financial problems this city faces. If we don’t grow revenue more quickly, our ability to sustain the police and fire services we need will be undermined soon.”