Even in making progress, the city of Dunkirk is still seeing red.
According to the latest audit report done by Johnson Mackowiak and Associates, a five-year picture of city finances shows that despite being in the black in 2010, there is still a ways to go. Since 2006, the city's deficit is at $1,765,707.
Some of the biggest problems regarding the shortfall are obvious: fewer property investments due to high taxes have lowered the full valuation in Dunkirk as well as higher costs going out for employee pension payments. In the meeting looking at the numbers last week, it was reported those retirement payments will leave the city short $50,000 in two budget lines.
Pension costs forced by the state come from local decisions, not from Albany mandates. Each contract is locally negotiated and the current median income for Dunkirk municipal employees hovers around $50,000. The median income in Chautauqua County is around $35,000, according to the U.S. Census.
As noted last month, the new contract agreement with the firefighters was a step in the right direction for controlling costs in the future. The contract also sets the bar for other upcoming city contract negotiations.
Worldwide, the economy is in question. Pension costs are one of the major drivers of the uncertainty.
But there really is no uncertainty in Dunkirk's numbers. A deficit remains despite a better 2010. Current residents - and businesses - cannot afford this deficit.
How to change this direction for the future must be one of the major election issues facing all candidates.