December 10, 2103
1. Cording Road
With only one of the two parties present, and no comments having been received by the other party – the one who wants to pave the easement, no decision was made.
2. Foreclosures/In Rem Properties
In a brief discussion that was only partially audible, it appears that the Town may have received a $30,000 offer for one property and that more than one party is bidding on one of the vacant parcels. In response to the town attorney’s question as to whether the town should proceed to auction on other parcels, Supervisor Grace directed her to get some proposals from auction companies.
The Board also passed a resolution to take title to three parcels on Concord Road that abut the Sylvan Glen Nature Preserve and to declare the parcels as parkland.
3. Special permit for convalescent home on Underhill Ave.
The prospective buyers of 482 Underhill Avenue (at French Hill Road) discussed plans to convert the existing 8,500 SF house into a facility where 12-14 people coming out of drug and alcohol in-house rehab programs would be able to stay for a 30-60 days transition before they’re ready to return to their family setting. The operation would be voluntary and 100% private, with no government or insurance funding and the potential residents were described as “high functioning.” There will be no medical services provided on the premises, and the residents, who are there voluntarily, would be free to come and go but there would be certain rules.
Because the use does not meet the definition of a “family” in the town’s code, a special permit will be required. The Board referred out the request to various town boards.
Mr. Capellini noted that in the 1960s the house was used as a school for disabled people.
4. 2014 Budget hearing
The three hour hearing was adjourned to December 17. Initially, Councilman Bianco wanted to close the hearing and vote on the budget, subject to certain changes being made, but the comptroller felt that she needed more time to review the changes discussed during the hearing.
Most of the comments/questions came from two people: Don Roberts of the UTY and Susan Siegel, the person writing these notes. Other speakers included Gil Kaufmann, Tony Grasso, Ed Ciffone, Glen Johnson, and Eric DiBartolo.
Supervisor Grace opened the hearing by explaining that there weren’t many changes in the budget from last year. He cited two new items: the addition of a police officer who will be devoted exclusively to drug enforcement, bringing the force up to 56 officers, still down two from the 2009 high of 58 officers, and the purchase of a digital projector for the theater so that the town could begin a program of showing movies. (see below.)
He said that the town didn’t spend as much as it anticipated spending last year (it wasn’t clear if he was referring to 2012 or 2013) and that the unspent money would go into the fund balance. He specifically mentioned the savings for the Holland Sporting Club demolition and the Granite Knolls ballfields. (Clarification: neither of these projects were included in the 2012 or 2013 budgets; they were funded directly from the fund balance.) Councilman Patel added that not all Holland expenses had been accounted for.
Councilman Murphy called attention to the 2012 auditor’s “stellar” report, adding that the town was doing a fantastic job.
What follows is summary by topic of major items, rather than by speaker.
Supervisor Grace explained that the fund balance grows when the town spends less than it anticipated and/or when revenues exceed what was projected. To date, the town has only used $199,000 of the $565,000 it budgeted to use for 2013. The unspent money will remain in the fund balance. He said he anticipated that the fund balance will grow for 2013. (Note: As explained by Councilman Bianco, the town will be paying 2013 bills into at least March and April of 2014.)
Mr. Roberts reminded the Board that it has yet to adopt a written fund balance policy, something the Board said it would do last year. Commenting on the supervisor’s remark that the fund balance would be 15-17% (of the fund’s budget), he said it was not clear if that percent was for the total fund balance or just the unassigned portion of the fund balance. He also said it wasn’t clear if the same 15-17% applied to all funds.
He said he was pleased that after so many years of criticizing the Board for keeping large fund balances, that the Board has “seen the light” and had started to return some of the money to the taxpayers. He asked the Board to add back into the budget book the fund balance graph.
Councilman Patel explained that the town needed to keep a fund balance for capital projects and unexpected expenses
Variations in the total tax bill
Supervisor Grace explained that a taxpayer’s total tax bill depended on where he lived and what special districts such as water and sewer the housse was in. Depending on where they lived, he said, total taxes for individual homeowners would either increase or decrease.
Ms. Siegel, displaying a graph, noted that 10 of the town’s 12 sewer districts were paying more than the “weighted average sewer tax” used to calculate the total tax bill for the typical homeowner with a house assessed at $10,000. She said the sewer tax should be taken out of the calculation as leaving it in misrepresented what the total tax bill was.
When Supervisor Grace responded that the town had used the weighted number for about 10 years and that the number was used when Ms. Siegel was supervisor, Ms. Siegel responded that she had expressed concern about the number during her term but it was one of the items she didn’t get around to changing during her two years.
Councilman Bianco noted that the difference between the past and now was that the current supervisor was using the typical total tax bill to show that taxes were going down for most taxpayers when they weren’t if the sewer tax was taken out of the calculation.
When Ms. Siegel pointed out that homeowners in 11 of the 12 districts paid at least two sewer taxes, and some a third tax, and that the “weighted average number” only included one tax, Supervisor Grace said he was only concerned about the single tax that the town collected. In response, Ms. Siegel said that a house couldn’t ge sewered if it didn’t also pay the county tax to the Peekskill Sanitary Sewer District.
Mr. Ciffone commented on the two different tax numbers, before and after election, and said that he had voted for candidates who said there would be no tax increase but that now there was an increase. In response, Supervisor Grace explained that it was the Board that made the changes to his Tentative Budget that increased the tax rate.
Councilman Bianco explained that even after the budget is passed by the Board, the tax rate won’t be finalized until March and might change slightly from what’s in the budget book.
Mr. Roberts asked why the Board hadn’t formed the Finance Committee it said it was going to form. Supervisor Grace said the delay was due to the changeover in the Finance office (which occurred in 2012) but that “we’ll get to it this year.” Several members of the UTY have indicated an interest in serving on the committee.
Supervisor Grace highlighted the decrease in the tax levy for the second year in a row, something he said most other towns in the state had not been able to accomplish. He said the decreasing tax levy was the key number that taxpayers should look at. He explained that the levy, the amount of money that has to be raised in taxes, fills the gap between what all the other revenue sources generate and how much the town plans to spend. (Note: there’s a single tax levy figure that includes all funds.)
Ms. Siegel explained that the reason the tax levy decreased this year was because an unprecedented $3.4 million of fund balance was used to lower the tax levy, compared to $1.9 million in 2013. If less fund balance was used, the levy would go up.
Councilman Bianco noted that while revenue has been flat, expenses have gone up 12% in three years. He said that while there was nothing wrong with using fund balance to lower the levy, and that it had been done before, he said he was worried about what would happen once the fund balance was depleted.
Four year tax projection
Ms. Siegel thanked the Board for adding back the four year financial model but noted that the projections included an overly optimistic 0.5% annual increase in the assessment roll. If a more realistic number was used,
the 2015 tax rate would be even higher than the projected 8.8%. She also questioned whether the assessment figure that wasx shown was based on a 0.5% increase or a 1% increase.
Senior club money
Gil Kaufmann, chairman of the Senior Advisory Committee, asked if there was any change in the $2,700 that each senior club receives for trips. The answer was no. (The money is listed in the budget as “contractual” so it is difficult to identify the appropriate line item.) In response to his question whether the town had changed the criteria for giving the payments to new clubs, Supervisor Grace said the town was following established guidelines that required a club to be in existence for three years before it could request the funds.
Tony Grasso said it was unfair that the same amount of money was given to each club, regardless of its membership and that the town should look into how the funds are dispersed.
Mr. Roberts suggested that the instead of giving the money directly to the clubs, that the Park & Recreation Department handle the trips and that non town residents be charged more than town residents to participate. (Currently, no residency distinction is made on the cost of the trips.) In response, Councilman Bianco said the department would have to hire additional staff if it took on this function.
Special district administrative fee
Citing comments from the town’s auditor and an audit from the state comptroller’s office, Ms. Siegel asked the town to complete the study of what administrative services the general fund provided the special districts (water, refuse and Yorktown Sewer) and at what cost. She said that the only way to assess a fair and equitable fee was to have the fee based on actual costs and not a flat percentage of the district’s budget which the state comptroller has said in not equitable and could result in over charging or undercharging certain taxpayers. She asked the Board to adopt a resolution directing the supervisor to compile the cost information by the spring.
Mr. Roberts also read an excerpt from the state comptroller’s report explaining that the administrative fee should be based on the cost of providing actual services.
Councilman Murphy asked Ms. Siegel if she thought the school district should also pay the cost of the tax office collecting school tax bills. In response, both Ms. Siegel and Supervisor Grace brought up a previous Board discussion that concluded that even though, by law, the town had the right to charge the school district a fee based on a percentage of the school levy, it didn’t make sense to do that, as it would simply shift the cost from the town to the school district – and basically the very same taxpayers.
Supervisor Grace said that the taxpayers in the special districts were the same as those in the special districts so that the cost factor was a wash and that it all amounted to a ledger entry. In the end, he said, it all boils down to the tax levy. He also said the districts should pay for having general staff available if and when their services were needed.
Both Mr. Roberts and Ms. Siegel pointed out that by including $1.590,000 for capital projects in the water district’s operating budget, that raised the district’s administrative fee by $78,000. See Water District discussion below.
Councilman Bianco called the special district fee a “work in progress” and Councilman Patel said that the fee should be based on costs.
Specific line item comments
Unspent line items. Mr. Roberts questionied several line items, such as dues and custodian fees, that had been budgeted each year but nothing or very little was ever spent. He said the UTY makes the same comments every year, but there’s no change.
Theater projector. Both Mr. Roberts and Ms Siegel said the project was a good idea. When Mr. Roberts questioned whether $65,000 was sufficient to cover the cost of both the projector and screen, Supervisor Grace said that was the number he had gotten but that if more money was needed it would be taken from fund balance. Ms. Siegel suggested that the money be eliminated from the operating budget and funded entirely from fund balance once the town had worked out the details of how the project would work and a more exact budget was arrived at. Councilman Patel said he voted for including the $65,000 projector expense in the budget once he was assured that there would be a live hookup to the adjoining nutrition center room for a possible spill over crowd.
Atheltic club payments. Mr. Roberts said that last year, the UTY was given a commitment that before the clubs were given money, they would open up their books to make sure the money was needed., When he asked if the books had been looked at this year, Supervisor Grace said he couldn’t answer the question but that he’d look into it.
Franchise fees (Verizon and Cablevision)
Mr. Ciffone noted that revenue, to date, exceeded the budgeted amount by $263,000 and wanted to know if 1) the exact fees from each company could be made available, and 2) why the 2014 revenue estimate could not be increased. Supervisor Grace responded that the franchise fee payments are confidential documents because they include proprietary information.
In response to a question from Ms. Siegel regarding the town’s 2014 insurance costs, Supervisor Grace said that the policy renewals were still being negotiated but that he anticipated no change in the premium cost for the same level of service. He hoped that the policies would be renewed by the end of the year.
It was noted that the budget includes funds for a special election if there will be one to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Councilman Paganelli.
In response to a question from Ms. Siegel regarding the cost of 2014 medical benefits, Comptroller Caporale said that costs have gone up 10%/
Salaries and staff vacanices
In response to a question from Ms. Siegel, Supervisor Grace said the budget did not include any increase for department heads. In response to a question from Mr. Roberts as to why there was a difference between the individual salaries in the back of the budget book and the salary line totals in the budget, Supervisor Grace explained that the former number was based on people currently employed while the latter figure was an estimate because until certain vacant positions were filled, the town did not know exactly what the new people would receive in salary.
Supervisor Grace said he was still undecided how to fill vacant positions in town hall, including two vacant positions in his office, one full time and one part time.
Emergency operations center (EOC)
Ms. Siegel asked how much money had been budgeted and spent to date on creating the EOC in the basement of the court building. She also asked when the Board had authorized the expense and where the money was coming from. In response, both Councilman Murphy and Highway Superintendent DiBartolo defended the EOC and Mr, DiBartolo said that the work was done by the highway department personnel and the town’s outside electrical contractor.
Refuse and recycling staff
In response to a question from Mr. Roberts about what the department staff did from January-March, Kim Angliss-Gage, interim head of the department, said that in January the staff was disposing of Xmas trees and doing special bulk pick ups and in February, in addition to the special bulk pick ups, staff helped out the highway department. Regularly scheduled bulk pick ups begin in March.
Mr. Kaufmann said that eliminating the $20,000 for a part time attendant at the fields was a mistake and that it would open up the fields to more damage. (Note: in the past, Mr. Kaufmann has been an attendant at the field.)
Change of hearing date
Messrs. Roberts and Ciffone and Ms. Siegel questioned why the Board had to reschedule the budget hearing and why even the change to 6pm was changed at the last minute. Mr. Ciffone said he hoped Board members had a good time whatever they were doing on the 11th, the original date of the hearing.
Water District fund
Two issues were raised. The first, raised by Ms. Siegel, was the addition, in the preliminary budget, of $550,000 in fund balance for a total fund balance appropriation of $1.950,000. Ms. Siegel questioned whether the Board had ever discussed or voted for this increase. Both she and Mr. Roberts who attended the meeting when the Board adopted the preliminary budget stated that they had not heard of any such vote. Comptroller Caporale said that while the $1,950,000 was in her notes, it was not in the spread sheet of changes that the Board had voted on on November 21.
The second issue was the $1,590,000 line item for “meter projects.” In addition to a $290,000 increase in the line item (which had been voted for by the Board on November 21), the title of the line item was changed from “capital projects” in the tentative budget to “meter projects” in the preliminary budget.
After some back and forth, it was agreed that the $1,590,000 was primarily for the cement relining of water mains and the fluoride project, not the meter project, and that the comptroller would break out the various capital projects into different line items.
Both Ms. Siegel and Mr. Roberts stated that the capital projects money should be eliminated entirely from the operating budget and funded directly from the fund balance when the money was needed, as had been done with other town capital projects. They both pointed out that including the money for capital projects in the operating budget increased the special district fee by at least $78,000 – and more if the fee had been recalculated, which it wasn’t, when the district’s budget was increased. Councilman Bianco agreed that this money should be taken out of the budget.
Ms. Siegel suggested that the town begin to plan for the replacement of up to three aging pump stations that are in excess of 40 years old. She said the existing fund balance could be used to finance the projects. Councilman Bianco agreed that this project should proceed.
In response to her question whether Ciarcia Engineering has submitted a report to the town for the $10,000 worth of consulting work Mr. Ciarcia had done, Acting Town Engineer Sharon Robinson said that the $10,000 was for the work Mr. Ciarcia did relating to the possible creation of a sewer district for Sunrise Street and that she was satisfied with the work he had done.
The Board went into a very brief closed session (about two minutes, while people where still mmilling about the Board room) to discuss a litigatin settlement.