December 13, 2016
Legal: The board voted to hire the law firm of Blanchard & Wilson as outside land use counsel for the Planning board. The resolution did not include the amount of money the firm will be paid. No decision was made about counsel for the Zoning Board of Appeals
Finance: The board voted to appoint Janelle McNeil as Deputy Comptroller as of January 3, 2017, at a salary of approximately $85,000.
3. Budget hearing
The board closed the hearing and plans to vote on the budget at its December 20th meeting.
Supervisor Grace gave an introduction, explaining that the tax levy is just at the maximum allowable cap. He said the key was the ability to hold back on expenditures while looking for new revenue. As an example on the expenditure side, he cited the town’s decision to rehabilitate the Route 202 ballfields in house rather than use an outside contractor and spend town money to supplement the available state grant.
He said he was proud of the program the town has made in the past five years, reeling off projects including the replacement of three bridge culverts and purchasing equipment and vehicles.. He pointed to the difficulty of doing additional projects while staying within the tax cap and given the current economic climate.
Other highlights of the hearing
In response to comments from Dr. Carl Tegtmeier regarding the status of the grant application for planning funds for a fluoride installation for the town’s Catskill system water supply, the town engineer indicated that the town had received $30,000. The money will be used to issue a Request for Proposal for an outside engineer to develop a plan for the new facility. (Note; the town gets its water from either the Amalwalk or Catskill facilities. The Catstkill system has not been fluoridated since 2012 when the old system was taken off line.)
Infrastructure/Open Space Fund
In response to a comment from a resident who cited the poor condition of the roads, Supervisor Grace explained that he was reviewing the possibility of shifting approximately $400,000 in revenue that is collected annually from the $30 per parcel open space tax to the general fund so that some of the money could be used for additional road paving. Instead of every property owner paying the same $30 tax regardless of the assessed value of the house, the $400,000 would be added to the tax levy and property owners would pay based on their assessed value. He said that under this approach, taxes would go down for 8,600 property owners, 90 would see no change, and taxes would go up for 4,000 property owners.
The supervisor explained that as four members of the Town Board have no intention in the near term to purchase any additional space, it made no sense for that fund to continue to accumulate money. (The town will pay off the bond used to purchase the Granite Knolls property this year, leaving a balance of about $250,000 in the fund.) By continuing to collect the tax and reallocating the revenue for another use, the town would stay within the tax levy cap. The supervisor explained that eliminating the tax altogether would create future problems with the tax levy. He further stated that once in the open space fund, the money can only be used for acquisition, not maintenance. He added that if, in the future, the town wanted to buy open space, it could reallocate the $30 tax to the open space fund. The supervisor is still reviewing the legality of this change.
Councilman Patel was the only board member to speak out against this plan and defended the long term benefits of acquiring open space.
Highway Superintendent Paganelli said that if he had an additional $250,000, he could pave 1.7 more miles. Given the current amount of money available for paving, he said the town was on a 30-35 year paving schedule, something he called unacceptable. He acknowledged that cul d’sacs with few houses don’t get priority. To date for 2016, the department has spent $707,000 on paving compared to about $620,000 in years past. (That amount includes approximately $375,000 from the state.)
Mr. Paganelli said he has been able to spend in excess of the $25,000 budgeted for drainage because staffing changes in his department freed up funds.
Councilman Patel talked about the need for other infrastructure improvements.
Salaries for department heads
Supervisor Grace acknowledged that the Preliminary Budget included salary increases for some department heads; he said that unlike previous years, he was not waiting for the CSEA to agree to a new contract before okaying raises for department heads. (CSEA members are currently without a contrac6t.) In general, the supervisor said that Yorktown pays its department heads less than other towns and he said this was the reason why several department heads have left. He said salary was an issue for the delay in filling the building inspector position; none of the current assistant building inspectors were interested in taking on the job.
In response to a question from Mark Lieberman, the supervisor said that 70% of the budget was for salaries and benefits. In response to other questions, Comptroller Caporale said that medical benefits had increased 10%-15% (but the supervisor anticipated reductions in the future as a result of the Trump administration) and Susan Siegel, the person writing this summary, noted that since the supervisor has been in office, the number of full time staff positions has increased by 10.
When the issue of padding the budget by including positions with no intention of filling them, e.g., the secretary’s position in the supervisor’s office, in order to show a surplus at the end of the year was raised, Supervisor Grace defended keeping the position in the budget, reasoning that if it was taken out now when he doesn’t need the extra person, it would be harder to add the position back in the future.
The padding question was also raised when it was pointed out that the town has been spending only a portion of the money budgeted for employee training. Supervisor Grace initially said, yes, there is padding, but later in the evening, apologized for the remark.
Use of fund balance
Ed Ciffone, representing the United Taxpayers of Yorktown, addressed several issues, including the suggestion that if more fund balance was applied to this year’s budget, there would be no tax increase.
Sewers: Supervisor Grace said the town was looking at possibly adjusting the sewer rents, the charge that shows up on water bills based on water usage. He also said the town was looking into several sewer projects, but when asked about the potential cost of replacing two pump stations in the Hallocks Mill sewer district, he declined to make public the numbers in the bids the town has received. Noting that the Hallocks Mill sewer district has a $6.3 million fund balance, Susan Siegel asked that the pump stations be funded from the fund balance instead of borrowing which would increase expenses.
Water rates. Supervisor Grace explained that the town had been remiss in not raising water rates sooner to keep pace with the increased cost of water purchased from New York City. Susan Siegel stated that because the town significantly lowered the water district tax rate in 2013 without reducing expenses, over the past three years, the water district had to use $3.3 million of its fund balance (54% of the fund balance) to cover the operating deficit prior to the board’s realizing that it had to increase water usage charges.
YCCC bathrooms: In response to a question about the status of the upgrade of the bathrooms, Councilman Lachterman explained that if the bathrooms are upgraded, they would have to meet ADA requirements and that this would reduce the number of facilities in the rooms. He plans to meet with the Senior Advisory Committee to review other possible uses for the state grant money.
Tax Exempt properties: Both Ed Ciffone and Susan Siegel addressed this issue, the latter asking the board to work with state senator Murphy and our new assemblyman to have the state pay taxes for state land in Yorktown. citing a recent Journal News article, Ms. Siegel reminded the board that the state pays taxes to Putnam Valley for the portion of Trump State Park in that town, but not in Yorktown.
Unpaid taxes: The comment was made that letters have gone out to property owners with unpaid taxes. There was no response from the board or the town attorney when the question was asked what follow up steps would be taken if the letters did not result in payment.
For the discussion of other budget issues, view the meeting video at www.yorktownny.org/townboard/meeting-videos .