November 15 & 16, 2017
Numbers are, of course important. But equally important – and of interest to residents and taxpayers - are some of the “tidbits” about the issues departments are grappling with. What follows is my take on the 2018 budget meetings with members of the Town Board and department heads over the course of about seven hours. Supervisor-elect Ilan Gilbert and Councilwoman-elect Alice Roker attended the meetings.
At the conclusion of the meetings, the board voted 4-1 to adopt a Preliminary Budget that will be the subject of a public hearing on December 5th, at 6pm at Town Hall. Councilman Patel voted against the budget.
With some exceptions, the Preliminary Budget closely follows, the Tentative Budget released by Supervisor Grace in late October. A few department heads asked for minor changes in some of their budget lines. Each department head met with the board in a closed session to review their salary.
As the adjusted final figures for the Preliminary Budget were not available to the public immediately after the budget was adopted (board members were given updated sheets), I cannot report with any accuracy on changes to specific budget lines, including whether there were any change in the tax rates or changes to department head salaries. However, in response to my question, the comptroller advised me that the 2018 overall tax levy is $900,000 less than the calculation that meets the state mandated tax cap. (Note: Because the tax levy combines over 20 different town districts, it has no bearing on the tax rate for each district.)
What follows are some overall impressions.
1. Security at Town Hall and the YCCC
This was a major concern for some board members. The police budget will be modified to add an officer for a 4-hour shift who will attend board meetings on a regular basis. Currently, the officer on duty during the time of board meetings attends the meeting instead of being on the road. Councilman Diana said board members were “sitting ducks” and that while residents should feel welcome to attend the meetings, the board won’t tolerate disorderly behavior. He also wants a sign at the meeting room door saying that people are subject to search and there was a discussion about getting a wand. There is also a need for security cameras in town hall and the YCCC.
2. Acceptance of credit cards
Due to a software glitch, there’s been a delay in the Tax Office accepting credit cards. Once the system becomes operational, residents will pay a 3% credit card processing fee in addition to their regular bill. If the volume of usage increases, the processing fee can be lowered.
3. Pinesbridge monument
To fill the gap in the fundraising and to move the project the along, the board wants to appropriate about $100,000 more from fund balance, on top of the $65,000 already authorized.
4. Staff changes in supervisor’s office
Over the objection of Councilman Patel, the board eliminated the unfilled secretary position. Mr. Patel said the supervisor has kept the position in his previous budgets as padding; Mr. Grace said he was eliminating the position (that was in his Tentative Budget released prior to Election Day) in response to repeated criticism from the Democrats. The board also voted to reduce the salary for the supervisor’s personal assistant by $20,000.
5. Garbage collection
Mr. Grace said there was an outstanding legal issue with Competition Carting that has to be settled. Details were not provided.
Mr. Grace said that the company awarded the bid for 2018 may not be able to perform the services outlined in the bid specs at the price it bid and that if it couldn’t, the escrow amount would not be sufficient to cover the shortfall. The problem stems from changes made in the bid specs in 2012 and a failure to adjust rates to reflect those changes. Even though the problem with the 2012 specs were apparent for some time, the same specs were used in the 2017 bid document.
Mr. Grace also said that the garbage rates will have to be adjusted because single family homeowners were subsidizing a much lower rate for multi family and condo owners; he said multi family properties were paying 40% less. Councilman Bernard said that any rate adjustment will be a political issue, similar to the controversial revaluation issue that surfaced years ago.
6. Permit application drop off desk
The building inspector wants to renovate the existing “mail room” on the lower level of town hall and turn the space into a “drop off” location for all permit applications. Building Department staff will service the desk and route the applications to the appropriate departments.
Mr. Paganelli reported that about $600,000 of the $2.2 million available for paving had not been used. He did not want to do any paving in December. He suggested he could use the unused funds from two state programs to purchase two trucks and a mini excavator. The rest would be reserved for paving for next year. (Of the $2.2 M, $1.4 M was to come from the General Fund fund balance, $378,000 from the state CHIPS program, and the remainder for two other specia state programs.)
8. Water department
Water Superintendent Rundle reminded the board about the importance of proceeding with the postponed cement lining project; the project will improve water quality and also the flow of water for use in fires. As no money was set aside in the 2018 budget for the project, Mr. Grace suggested that the new board might be able to fund the project from the district’s $2 M fund balance. (Note: The 2015 and 2016 budgets included a total of $2.1 million for the project but only $144,929 was spent over the two years; the rest of the money was used to cover the district’s operating deficit.)
Supervisor Grace seemed fuzzy on exactly what streets were being planned for sewers, but talked about a $30 M project, up substantially from the earlier estimate of about $20 million. He also talked about sewering 750 parcels, a sharp increase from the previous plan to sewer 450 parcels. Mr. Quinn wants to start planning on upgrading the next group of pump stations, do a study of inconsistencies in how sewer rates are assessed across different district, explaining that over time many anomalies have made their way into the system, and do a facilities study of “front end” needs at the treatment plant.
Judge Lagonia advised the board that the 2014 “temporary” repair to the steps leading to the court and police building are crumbling and needs to be attended to. He also advised the board of continuing roof leaks.
Judges Raniolo and Lagonia are still pressing for a Drug Court, although Supervisor Grace and Supervisor-elect Gilbert noted that there were many obstacles to overcome before the court could be established as well as limitations on the role of the local court.
11. Recreational services for disabled youth and adults
The board decided to end a long time budgetary commitment to fund, Norwest, the regional organization supported by Yorktown, Cortlandt, Peekskill of Ossining (not sure if town or village) that provides recreational services for disabled individuals and instead give the same amount of money, about $38,000 to the Parks Depatment and let the department allocate the money between Norwest and SPARC, another group that provides recreational services to the disabled.