Town Board Special Budget Review Meeting With Department Heads
November 8 & 9, 2012
(Note: Councilman Murphy was present only for about one hour on November 8. Councilman Bianco missed about one hour of the November 9 meeting.)
Hurricane Sandy clean-up
There were brief discussions and updates on both days related to Hurricane Sandy debris clean up.
The Town expects to hire a logging company to remove downed trees on the right of ways and on Town land at a cost of $150/hour. This will be a FEMA reimbursable expensse. It is estimated that the company will have a week’s worth of work. The trees will be deposited in one or more central locations in town where a second company, hired by the state DOT and working through the county, will pick up and dispose of the trees at no cost to the Town.
Town staff will survey the downed trees and tag or spray paint those that the logging company will collect.
An effort will be made to identify trees that could be sold for lumber; this would help recoup some of the cost.
The Board discussed, but came to no decision, on exactly how many feet from the road the trees have to be in order to be picked up by the logging company. Also discussed was the possibility that while the logging company was picking up a “town” tree, the homeowner might be able to negotiate with the company to remove trees on their property at the same $150/hour rate.
Also at issue is whether the utility companies that cut down trees and placed them in the right of way will return to remove the trees (as they have done in the past), or whether this will become a Town responsibility.
Residents are reminded that the Town does not pick up logs greater than 5” but that logs can be brought to the Organic Waste Facility on Greenwood Street. If a homeowner hires someone to remove the cute up trees, the vendor can get a waiver for the disposal fee at the facility.
Building Inspector Winter informed the Board that seven homes had been declared not habitable by his department and residents were cautioned to enter only to retrieve items they needed. His department is expediting permits for the repairs. The Board might consider waiving the building permit fees, even though the fee would be covered by insurance.
As part of the discussion, it was noted that the number of permits issued to commercial users at the Organic Waste Facility have declined because our fees are too high; they start at $1,500/year and go up depending on the size of the truck. Ms. Angliss-Gage, head of the Department of Conservation explained that the capacity of the “Hill” is limited by the state DEC and that the Town has to carefully manage how much debris it receives.
Summary: No final decisions were made on additions or deletions to the Supervisor’s budget. The discussion will continue at the end of the Board’s November 13 work session.
Tax Rate Increase discussion
Noting that the total tax rates for homeowners with and without utilities (-.5% or 2.58%) differed, Councilman Paganelli asked what percentage of homeowners had water and sewer which would bring down the 7.72% tax rate increase for the A,D, L budgets (general, highway and library funds ). No one was sure of the answer and estimates ranged from 70/30 (70 having the utilities) to 60/40.
Councilman Bianco expressed concern that the Town hadn’t seen anything like a 7.72% increase since the 1990s and that most past increases were at or below the rate of inflation.
Supervisor Grace said the Board could lower the 7.72% increase for the A,D,L budget by cutting positions. He said the major reason for the increase was the police budget but that people were grateful for having the department. While other department budgets changed from zero to 2%, the police budget increased by 8%-9%. Having a police department is a policy decision that he said he supports. If it hadn’t been for the police increases, he said, the A,D, L the tax rate increase could have been flat.
By the end of the 10 hours of discussion, there appeared to be a consensus that the Board could “live with” an A, D, L tax rate increase of just under 5%.
Deputy Comptroller Caporale advised the Board that as a rule of thumb, for general fund:, $180,000 equals 1% on the tax rate.
Before next Tuesday’s meeting, the Finance Department will give the Board a summary of the proposed additions and subtractions to the budget for both revenue and expenses.
Deputy Comptroller Caporale started the Thursday meeting by highlighting the following changes for other funds from the 2012 adopted budget
· Library: an increase of $69,786
· Highway: a decrease of $176,000. (Supervisor Grace said the highway superintendent had “slashed” his budget and that after the purchase of new trucks this year, the budget was now back to where it needed to be, but that more money would be needed for drainage
· Water: a decrease of $48,946.
· Refuse: Decreased of $637,378 See discussion below.
· Yorktown Sewer Fund: Increase of $84,691
For the General Fund, Revenue, Ms. Caporale highlighted the following changes in revenue projections from 2012:
· Increase of $390,000in one time, non-recurring revenues in the Building ($220,000) and Planning ($170,000) Departments
· Increase projections for recreation fees ($68,000 -- see discussion below), Legacy fields fees, ($14,000) and court fines ($50,000)
· Decrease of $25,000 in interest revenue
· Decrease of $75,000 in mortgage tax
For General Fund: Ms. Caporale highlighted the following mandated increased expenses compared with the 2012 budget
· CSEA salaries: $180,000
· Police salaries, $400,000
· CSEA retirement, $160,000
· PD retirement, $140,000
· Medical insurance, $190,000
· Vision insurance, $140,000
· Dental insurance $170,000
· TOTAL: $1,380,000
Other major projected expense increases:
· Building maintenance: two upgrades and one additional laborer $40,000
· Court, additional employee hired in 2012, plus step increases $70,000
· Parks & Rec, 1 additional laborer, step increases and special OT $56,000
· Police, overtime and vehicle purchases $85,000
· Total $251,000
Supervisor Grace explained that the Town could spend an additional $1.4 million and still be within the 2% tax levy cap.
What follows are Board discussions by topic or department
Planning fees: Supervisor Grace and Planning Director Tegeder felt comfortable with the projections that for next year include Costco, Croton Overlook, Fieldhome, and some unspecified projects Supervisor Grace said he anticipated. The JV Mall and State Land projects were not included in Planning Department projections. Councilman Paganelli said that the Mall and Fieldhome were definite and that if next year’s revenue was less, we’d deal with it then. Supervisor Grace said that if the revenue projections for fees was lowered, it would result in a higher tax rate increase. Following up on Ms. Caporale’s cautionary note about not relying on one time revenues that might not be available next year, Councilman Bianco suggested using a five year average.
Court fees: Councilman Patel questioned whether the higher fees would continue if the ticket backlog has been eliminated; the Supervisor said the court feels that the projected increase reflects what is likely to happen.
Sales tax: Councilman Bianco said he thought the $4.5 million projection could be increased. Current revenue, with 3 of the 4 quarter payments having been received, is $3.5 million and the fourth quarter for last year was $1.2M. The Finance Department and Supervisor Grace did not think the projection should be increased.
Franchise fees: Supervisor Grace said he expected an increase in cablevision fees next year because the lawsuit with cablevision over past fees has been settled and he anticipates the Town will be receiving additional revenue for DVR use. He did not know how much money the Town would receive for the challenged fees. Councilman Bianco thought there was some “wiggle room” in this line item.
Towing fees: Supervisor Grace said he had specs for a new bid ready to go out. He did not think that Yorktown Auto Body which has had the bid in the past would bid again because the contract was not worth enough to them.
SEQRA Fees. This $25,000 will be removed as it is accounted for in a separate account that is basically a reimbursement account.
Operating Fees. Nothing has been collected in 2012, despite a $30,000 revenue projection. No revenue was projected for 2013, although Building Inspector Winter said he had had discussions with the Board about this earlier this year but that no action was taken to add a fee to the Master Fee Schedule. Operating permits are issued by the fire inspector for places of public assembly and places that store hazardous materials. Supervisor Grace said he was against the fee.
In general, Councilman Paganelli expressed concern that there were too many one shot revenues in the budget. Supervisor Grace said that some money could be taken from the fund balance; the $80,350 from fund balance shown in the budget was not actually from fund balance but was an adjustment.
Summary on revenue adjustments
By the end of the 10 hour discussion, Councilman Bianco suggested that in order to bring down the 7.72% tax rate to under 5%, the following revenue projections could be increased:
· $80,000 more in franchise fees
· $450,000 from fund balance
When Councilman Paganelli suggested that the sales tax revenue could be increased, Supervisor Grace again disagreed.
Supervisor Grace added that he hoped that the decrease in the Town’s assessment roll would level off by next year.
In general, the budget is under the 2% tax cap levy and Supervisor Grace explained that the Town could actually spend $1.4 million more and still come in within the 2% tax levy cap. He said it was hard to find where to reduce expenditures.
Parks & Recreation
Fees: the department is hoping to raise fees next year by:
· Encouraging the rental of the Sparkle Lake Service Building
· Starting summer day camp earlier (to make camp more attractive for working parents) and charge an extra fee
· Consider pool passes, at a higher rate, for non-residents, and allow non-resident town employees to get permits at a discount
These actions should help offset the reduced fees received this year. The Rec Commission is currently reviewing the fee issue. Legacy Field fees will also be increased. Supervisor Grace felt that pool fees decreased this past year because they were too high. He believes this explains the increased use of Sparkle Lake. Basically, the department will have to broaden the base of users and improve its marketing efforts.
Expenses: the department will slightly modify pool opening days in June and Sparkle Lake starting time in order to reduce expenses for lifeguards.
The department justified the hiring of an additional laborer, noting that it could reduce its part time line by about $6,000.
School district fees and tax collection services
The following discussion was an outgrowth of the Parks Department discussion.
The Yorktown School District had indicated that due to pressure it is under as a result of the 2% tax levy cap, it might charge fees for the Town’s use of its facilities for summer day camps. Councilman Paganelli informed the Board that the district has already informed the athletic clubs that their fees for use of school facilities will increase. Superintendent Brian Gray said that the district has been difficult to work with in recent years. Supervisor Grace noted that by law the Town is allowed to charge the school districts 1% of the school tax levy as an administrative fee for collecting school taxes and that maybe it was time that we considered this, even though it would be a wash for taxpayers, it might also lead the school districts to take over the collection process entirely. (Westchester is the only county in the state where the towns collect school and county taxes.) Costs to the town for collecting the taxes include the labor of printing and mailing the bills, postage, printing, and then staff time for collection. He estimated that if the town charged ¼ or 1%, it would generate about $250,000 in revenue.
It was also pointed out that although the school districts have more at stake in tax certiorari challenges, the districts haven’t always wanted to share the cost with the Town of the outside appraisals that have to be done in certiorari cases. In a recent case, the appraisal cost was $18,000 but the Town only had a $24,000 refund to pay; the potential refund for the school district was much more.
No decisions were made and Supervisor Grace will have more discussions with the Yorktown School District. The Board did, however, direct the town attorney to review the laws governing the tax collection fee.
Nutrition Center/Senior programs/
Director Mary DeSilva asked that the hourly rate for her part time employee be increased from $12.36/hr to $15/hour.
Planning Director Tegeder justified the increase in the part time line that is used to pay staff who take minutes of advisory committee meetings and also to be able to hire a summer intern that was eliminated in the 2012 budget. He will also need additional funds to make the quarterly payments of about $500 per quarter for the new copier machine purchased this year. This item was not included in the Supervisor’s budget.
Cablevision services/Communications Department
In response to Councilman Bianco’s question about why there was an approximately $10,000 increase, Ms. Caporale said that it was to reflect actual costs.
During Town Clerk Roker’s presentation, she asked the Board to consider forming a Communications Department, or if not a separate department, then to consider providing funds to be able to do more programming on the government channel. She noted that Geoff Wheeler, the volunteer head of the Cable Committee had spent considerable time at town hall to assist in taping the emergency broadcasts. Also Tom Sciangula, the cameraman, Carry Vigilante who programs the videos and Robyn Steinberg of the Planning Department who handles the Town’s web site, were very instrumental in producing the videos during the storm. She said that lengthy presentations at public hearings could be aired on the government channel.
Councilman Bianco expressed concern about creating another department and Councilman Paganelli said that while a communications department or operation was a “lovely” idea, he was concerned about the financial implications. At the Board’s request, Ms. Roker will provide a budget to the Board for this additional potential expense.
Mary Capoccia, the Supervisor’s exective assistant noted that theT now has a Facebook page.
After some discussion, it was agreed that the $10,000 increase in the part time salary line was an error and could be reduced. The department’s budget includes $1,250 for the clerk to attend an annual conference of town clerks after Ms. Roker said she was angry that other department heads had been given money to attend conferences but not her.
Ms. Roker also asked that some money from the sale of the Bernstein House be given to the museum. She has asked the museum curator for the dollar amount the museum would like so that it can modernize its facilities. (There was no discussion of the museum budget.)
Records management/digitization of town records
Ms. Roker has been investigating switching from microfilming town records to digitizing them. The system, which would cost several hundred thousand dollars to implement, and an additional sum to digitize old records, would allow all departments to share the same records, would increase productivity and reduce waste, printing costs, and save space. The cost would be bonded. There will be additional discussions once she has cost estimates from other vendors. In the meantime, the budget line item for “microfilming” for the Building Department shows a “0.”
Emergency Management Plan
As an aside to the discussion about storm related communications, Supervisor Grace said that based on experience during Hurricane Sandy, The town needed to set up an emergency operations center in the basement of the court; using the town board room was not suitable, he said, because people kept coming into the room during meetings and someone was needed to “man” the doors. He also said that during the storm the town piggy backed on the school district’s notification system and that there were no problems communicating with residents about issues such as the availability of dry ice.
The budget includes $35,000 to hire retired assessor Robert Killeen for one day a week at $85/hour. He would assist the assessor with commercial projects, tax certioraris and mapping issues.
Building Inspector Winter asked that the fire inspector and a support staff position be upgraded. The cost of the upgrades was not reflected in the budget.
New garbage contract: Councilman Pagaenlli asked if any money had been set aside in the event the vendor didn’t live up to the contract. Supervisor said that he expected the vendor to get a six month performance bond when he started and that a reserve wasn’t needed. The entire $750,000 savings has been used in the budget . While the contract decreased the out of pocket cost by 23.16%, because of other increased expenses in the fund, the total expenditures for the fund only decreased by 12.35%. If the Town had continued with CPR at the same rate, there would have been a $100,000 increase in the budget, or a ¾% tax rate increase.
Ms. Angliss-Gage, interim head of the department also justified adding an additional laborer who would replace a machine equipment operator position that was not filled last year when a person resigned. The laborer, with benefits, would cost $50,000. With the additional person, she said her department would be able to pick up trash at the county bus stops now being done by the Parks Department. (The Town is responsible for the trash as part of the IMA with the county.) She said she could eliminate the need for a second seasonal worker.
Ms. Angliss-Gage also suggested, and the Board agreed, to raise the cost of special bulk pick-ups to $45 from $35 and to increase the cost of leaf bags to $20 a bundle instead of $15/bundle.
She also asked that the Board change the name of the Department of Environmental Conservation to the Refuse and Recycling Department. The Board agreed.
Transfers from special district funds to the general fund
These transfers (which constitute an expense for the special district funds but a revenue for the general fund) cover the administrative costs of operating the districts and are 7% of the districts’ budget. However, it was noted that because the refuse budget is going down because of the new garbage contract, this automatically reduces the transfer payment into the general fund although the admin costs remain the same. The Finance Department will work on an adjustment to the transfer amount, and the same approach will be used for other districts, such as water, if that budget shows a decrease as all special districts should be treated equally.
Supervisor Grace advised the Board that there were between $1 million - $1.5 million of real infrastructure projects that he planned to present to the Board by mid 2013. They included repairs to the Town Hall roof, YCCC roof and Police building roof. He anticipated that the projects would be bonded. (A list of potential capital projects is included in the back of the Supervisor’s budget.)
The repair of the Lexington Ave bridge culvert: Damaged during Hurricane Irene,the Town is still waiting to hear from FEMA about how much money the Town might receive toward the repair. The project is not included in the Capital Plan pages included in the Supervisor’s budget.
YCCC/Town Hall Maintenance
Human Resources Specialist Margaret Gspurning, the person is charge of building maintenance, said she would have liked to add a full time laborer to the maintenance staff but knowing budgets are tight, she opted instead only to upgrade the part time position of the YCCC building manager to a full time position. She also said she was not comfortable that the Supervisor’s budget cut that cut building maintenance by $50,000. She noted the need to replace a sewer pipe and add some type of ventilation in the nutrition center kitchen. When Board members noted that the budget showed only $28,000 spent to date for building maintenance, she said she has bills dating back to 2010 that haven’t been paid yet and only recently received some bills from 2011. Supervisor Grace said that a way of sub-allocating specific maintenance costs, such as electric repairs, needed to be set up in the town’s KVS finance system.
Ms. Gspurning asked for $5,000 more in the employee training/testing line to cover the additional testing that will be done in 2013 as the PBA agreed to random drug and alcohol testing in its new contract. She also noted that an additional $2,000 was needed in the Employee Assistance Program line, a county run program that assists Town employees. Like other department heads, she asked for a salary increase, and cited the increased responsibilities she had taken on it 2012.
Tax Received Elfrieda Schmidt asked the Board to upgrade the staff person in her department from Grade 6 to Grade 10, at an approximate cost of $10,000. She also asked the Board to replace the current tax software package (the software used by the Finance Department) at a cost of about $30,000 with a different software package from the same company that provides the software used by the Assessor’s Department. ( A problem arose this past August when the school tax bills had to be printed because one software carries numbers to four decimal points while the other rounds to two decimal points. Supervisor Grace said the KVS people were working out the problem.)
Library Director Pat Baressi and members of the Library Board of Trustees had no problems with the Supervisor’s budget which includes funds to add an additional hour on Sunday and increase Friday hours. The trustees also asked for a raise for the library director.
Raising the issue of “guns or butter,” Councilman Bianco asked Police Chief McMahon if there was any way, other than hiring three additional officers at a total cost of $175,000 each, to reduce the overtime budget which the Supervisor has increased from $300,000 to $325,000. (The chief cited previous years when the department had three more officers.) As of November 2, the department has already spent $323,700 in overtime. Councilman Bianco noted that the department represents 46% of the $30 million General Fund budget. In response, both the Chief and Supervisor Grace said that one of the driving forces behind the high OT costs was police appearances in town court for traffic tickets. Both said that the problem had been worked out but they did not explain what the specifics of the solution were.
As part of a better accounting for police overtime, overtime charges related to parades will now be broken out to a separate budget line.
The budget includes funds for three new vehicles at an average cost, with equipment, of $35,000. The chief wanted a fourth car, and when Councilman Bianco suggested that if the department had a surplus at the end of 2012, the funds might be used for the extra car, the chief said he didn’t expect a surplus in this year’s budget. The department will be getting three new cars in 2012. (The department has purchased 14 cars over the past seven years and the chief said that the cars that have been taken out of service have been a result of their failing the annual inspection.)
The budget for the Neighborhood Watch program was increased to $3,000 from $500 to cover the cost of signs, whistles, IDs and the time a detective spent with the program. There are between 10-15 neighborhood watch groups.
In response to Councilman Paganelli’s questions about the $23,400 SPCA contract, the chief estimated that about 10 stray dogs per month were taken to the shelter (dogs with tags are returned to their owner) and that the Town didn’t have any other alternative. He also advised the Board that if a stray dog is hit by a car, according to state law, the Town is responsible for paying the vet bills.
Commenting on the overall size of the department’s budget, Councilman Biano said, “We’re going to have to pay for our choice,” adding that he thought having the department was a good choice. Councilman Paganelli’s question whether crime was running rampant in Yorktown, led to a discussion of police coverage in neighboring towns that do not have a police department. In response to Chief McMahon’s suggestion that the cost of the police department could be taken out of the General Fund budget by creating a separate Police District as a separate taxing district, Councilman Paganelli said that even though the switch would be a wash, it would let the residents see the cost of having a police department.
Chief McMahon also suggested that if Costco does result in additional demands for police services, the company should at least pay for a portion of the cost of a new officer. In response, Supervisor Grace said that he anticipated that Costco will make a contribution to the Town and will be a good neighbor.
Councilman Bianco suggested that instead of using $750,000 of fund balance to bring the tax rate down, as proposed by the Supervisor, the money be used to pay off some principal on two bonds that run until 2018. Councilman Paganelli appeared to agree that instead of using the $750,000 as a one-time revenue that would need to made up next year, it made sense to pay off the bonds earlier which would save about $500,000 a year for the next six years. The district has two outstanding bonds, one with an outstanding principal of $2.8 million and a second with $570,000 outstanding. The annual payment for principal and debt service for both bonds is $546,143. The Board asked the deputy comptroller to research whether the bonds can be paid off ahead of schedule.
The district will need an additional $2.4 million from the fund balance to complete Phase II of the installation of 7,489 new meters and Distribution Superintendent Rambo estimated that between $1 million and $1.5 million would be needed in the near term to replace water lines, valves and other equipment. Additional funds would be needed to paint water storage tanks at a cost of $250,000 per tank.
Superintendent Rambo said that the Phase II meter implementation program could be phased in over a number of years and that the installation could be done either in house or by hiring an outside company. He assured the Board that the two employees currently involved in the meter unit would continue to have jobs in the department.
The Board will look into the potential cost savings of taking water billing back in house from the Joint Water Works. Currently the town is paying $20.30 per household to have the Joint Water Works send out three bills per year.
Town Attorney Koster explained that the increase in her department’s salary line included a $30,000 raise for her. (As an alternative to a raise, she asked for an additional week of vacation time.) She also explained the addition of $35,000 to the budget for a part time attorney who she felt could handle routine legal matters such as foreclosure and contracts. She said she has reduced the expense for outside counsel by handling Article 78 lawsuits in house.
As an alternative to the part time plan, the Board discussed the possibility of hiring a full time “junior attorney” at a salary of $50,000-$70,000 which would eliminate the $27,000 retainer for outside counsel for the Planning and Zoning Boards and the $12,000 town prosecutor who handles state traffic tickets and code enforcement cases. Ms. Koster advised the Board that it still needed to retain outside counsel for labor issues and Supervisor Grace said that outside counsel was needed for tax certiorari matters.
Ms. Koster will prepare a plan for the Board on how a full time attorney could be utilized.
Justices Lagonia and Raniolo and Court Clerk Klein gave the Board a recap of court revenue and expenses from 2007-2011 that showed that last year, the court generated more revenue from fines than what the department actually spent.
In response to Councilman Patel’s question whether the increased revenue stream would continue if the ticket backlog is caught up Judge Lagonia assured the Board that the revenue stream would continue even though there was no more state backlog. In addition to town tickets, he said that nine other outside agencies write tickets that are heard in the town court.
The Board discussed reducing the salary line by $75,000 to reflect changes in the position of comptroller.
And Deputy Comoptroller Caporale said that $55,000 had to be added to the budget for annual computer hardware and software upgrades.
Supervisor and Town Board
The Board wants to add a total of $750 for uniforms (shirts and jackets) for the four councilmen and the supervisor. They would be worn during parades and when board members are dealing with emergencies.
Councilman Bianco raised the issue of pay raises for all elected officials, noting that they haven’t had a raise in six years. He suggested something in the 3% -04% range. (The supervisor earns $112,095 and the councilman $18,085.) Supervisor Grace suggested that some type of formula was needed for the different elected officials and also to take into account the ratio between the Supervisor and the Town’s department heads. It was noted that the police chief earns over $150,000 when extra payments are added to his base salary of $135,226 and that the Highway Superintendent’s salary of $125,000 includes the extra money he was given when he was the Director of Labor Operations but which could not be taken away when the position was eliminated.
The decrease in salary line in the Supervisor’s budget reflects the elimination of the position of part time purchasing clerk following the resignation of the person who held that position earlier this year and the decentralization of purchasing operations.
The budget includes $10,500 for part time staff for the community service alternative sentencing program although Judge Lagonia said that the program has only been used about once this year because there are other sentencing options.
The Highway Superintendent was not available to meet with the Board. The department’s budget will be reviewed by the Board on November 13.
Salary increases for department heads
This issue came up during the review of several departments with department heads noting that they have not received raises in several years. Several department heads gave the Board surveys of what their colleagues in other towns are receiving.
The Board postponed any discussion on the issue until next week when Councilman Murphy will return from vacation.