Town Board Budget Hearing
December 5, 2012
Speakers included: Ed Ciffone, Don Roberts and Dan Lefkowitz from the United Taxpayers of Yorktown, Tony Grasso, Jennie Menton, Ken Belfer of the Mohegan Lake Improvement District and Susan Siegel (the person writing these notes).
What follows are mostly issues that were brought up by the speakers with limited responses from members of the Town Board. (Note: not every budget line item brought up during the hearing is included.)
The Board closed the public hearing and indicated that it would vote on the budget at its December 18 meeting.
For the Board discussions that led up to the hearing, click here.
Fund Balance: Several speakers addressed this issue which, in turn, elicited responses from the Board. In general, UTY members Ciffone and Roberts felt that the fund balances in several funds was too high and that over the past several years the town consistently underestimated revenues and overestimated expenses in order to generate larger fund balances. Mr. Ciffone pointed to different 2011 fund balance numbers in the budget book and in the 2011 audit report. UTY members specifically cited the size of the fund balances in the library and general fund. In response, Supervisor Grace said that he anticipates the Board will adopt a fund balance policy and said he felt that 15% was a reasonable number, adding that bonding agencies would prefer 20%. Councilman Bianco cautioned that special districts with high capital costs such as water and sewer might need larger fund balances. He also cautioned that if fund balance was continually used to lower taxes, it could eventually wipe out a fund balance.
Supervisor Grace said that he had not included any fund balance transfers in his Tentative Budget as he felt that this decision should be made by the Town Board.
When it came to financing capital projects, instead of using fund balance, which he believed should be given back to the taxpayers in the form of lower taxes, he said he favored borrowing so that the people who will benefit from the improvement in the future will be paying off the debt service.
Special district charges: Supervisor Grace explained the reason why the districts were being charged a fee for administrative services provided by the general fund.
Mr. Roberts said he had no problem with increasing the fee from 5% of the district’s budget (the amount shown in the Tentative budget) to 6%, the revised amount in the Preliminary Budget.
Mr. Belfer said he had mixed feelings about fee. He praised the town for its support and cooperation on Mohegan issues but said that the Mohegan Lake Improvement District had been caught off guard by the proposed 2013 increase. He asked how the fee was calculated for MLID as well as the other park districts. The answer was not readily available but Deputy Comptroller Caporale said she would look into the matter.
Ms. Siegel said she opposed the 1% increase and said that a study was needed to determine exactly what general fund services were provided to each district. She said that each district used a different mix of services and should be looked at separately. She also noted that some changes in the districts’ budgets, such as changes in the cost of water from New York City, affected the district’s overall budget but did not change the need for administrative services.
Citizens Budget Committee:
Mr. Roberts expressed disappointment that the committee had never been formed, despite the fact that several UTY had expressed interest in being committee members. Supervisor Grace said that he has not given up forming the committee and that it is something that the town needs to do. Explaining that he was distracted by other issues he said, “I’d love to have you.”
Foreclosures: Mr. Ciffone wanted to know what the town was doing to address the foreclosure issues, and specifically cited the Sultana Pool property.
Town clerk salary increase: UTY members questioned the approximate $10,000 increase. Highway Superintendent DiBartolo, Supervisor Grace and Mr. Grasso came to the clerk’s defense, noting that she hadn’t received a raise since 2006 and deserved the raise.
Town Board salary increase: Mr. Grasso defended the salary increase for the councilmen and Councilman Bianco explained that the councilman work 30 hours per week and are not part time.
Vehicle purchase: In response to Mr. Lefkowitz’s question about the $120,000 vehicle purchase item, Supervisor Grace said it was for 3.5 new police cars, adding that he hoped that the department would save money that could be used to purchase a fourth car. Ms. Siegel asked if the $15,000 added to the police budget after the Town Board had voted on the budget, was a way of making the additional money available
Cable expenses: In response to a question from Mr. Lefkowitz, Supervisor Grace explained that the increase in the cable services budget to $30,000 from $15,000 was needed to cover operations and other expenses which were not identified.
Neighborhood Watch Program: There was no response to Mr. Lefkowitz’s questions about the increase of $2,500 in the Neighborhood Watch program or why the Tax Department needed $2,000 for microfilming when the town plans to digitize its records.
Senior programs. Ms. Menton asked what the town was doing to come up with a fairer and more equitable way to disburse $29,000 among the town’s several senior clubs. She pointed out that the clubs vary widely in membership and she did not think it fair to give each club the same amount of money.
Unemployment and Underemployment insurance. In response to Mr. Grasso’s question whether the town had gotten the figures on how many people were collecting money in both categories, it was announced that two people have been receiving underemployment payments for several years and that four people are currently getting unemployment insurance. People qualify for underemployment benefits if that earn less than $405 a week. There is no time limit on how long a person can collect underemployment insurance. In contrast, unemployment insurance time limits can change depending on federal and state legislation.
General development fee revenue line. Planning Director Tegeder said that much of the $125,000 increase in this line was coming from the Fieldhome project. The fee is paid after a site plan has been approved but before it is officially signed.
In response to UTY questions why the Board needed special jackets, Councilman Paganelli and Highway Superintendent DiBartolo explained that during Hurricane Sandy when Board members were out at night, they needed jackets to identify themselves as town personnel and also for safety reasons. (The need for jackets was identified during a budget review meeting but there is no separate line item in the 2013 budget for this expense.)
Other lines questioned by UTY included cellphone usage in the YCCC, water cooler purchases, the $100,000 contingency line, the fee the town pays to the Yorktown School District for some of its recreation programs, and why more money was needed in the municipal dues line next year when the town would not be hosting a dinner for other municipal officials. Supervisor Grace agreed with Mr. Roberts that it was appropriate for the town to review the books of the athletic clubs that receive funds from the town and Councilman Paganelli said that the clubs had already been asked to provide their financial information.
Other lines questioned by Ms. Siegel: In response to her question why the budget included $35,000 for a consultant in the Assessor’s Office, the assessor explained that the person would handle commercial assessments. Ms. Siegel also questioned if this was the appropriate time to add staff in the Parks Department and suggested as an alternative that the additional of staff in one department might be offset by a reduction in another department. Saying that Yorktown as a family, Supervisor Grace said he favored staff reductions by attrition and not lay offs.
Finance Department salaries: Mr. Roberts and Ms. Siegel asked for clarification on the salary line as the numbers did not match the number of department employees shown in the back of the budget book. Supervisor Grace indicated that the department would not backfill a position.
Legal budget: Ms. Siegel asked what the Board’s plans were for restructuring the department as the Preliminary Budget included funds for both a new junior attorney and a part time attorney. When she questioned the level of experience that a $50,000 full time salary would buy, Supervisor Grace said that the junior attorney could be his protege. The Board did not discuss any department reorganization.
Other revenue issues: Ms. Siegel suggested that the town could raise revenue by charging a fee for operating permits that the town is required to issue and which require an inspection by the town’s fire inspector. She also suggested the town take a look at the fee and cost structure for the town’s alarm permit monitoring program that was set up in 1990. She said the fees haven’t been changed since then and that the cost to operate the program exceeds the revenue it takes in. She also cited the one time revenue associated with an energy grant as an example of one shot revenues that could create problems for the 2014 budget.
Options for reducing overtime: Ms. Siegel suggested police overtime costs could be reduced by changing the way town traffic tickets were handled in court and also how compensatory time was paid for. Supervisor Grace and Police Chief McMahon responded that neither suggestion was doable.
Community Service program:
Noting that only one youth had been sentenced to the program this year and that Judge Lagonia had indicated that there were other sentencing options, Ms. Siegel asked if the two people who are paid to administer this program get paid whether or not youth are sentenced to the program. The answer was yes.
Looking ahead to 2014 budget: Ms. Siegel expressed concern the overreliance in the 2013 budget on one shot revenues, one shot savings and $1.8 million in fund balance would create problems for the 2014 budget. She noted that the 2013 budget book did not include the four year budget projections that were found in past budgets. Using the same model, she projected that next year, the total tax levy would increase by $1.3 million and would likely exceed the 2% tax cap.
Supervisor Grace said he was mindful of 2014 and anticipated the same water savings for 2014. Also, the 2014 budget would not see the one time 4 year catch up in PBA salaries. He identified ways the town was looking to save money and that the current budget eliminated 1.5 positions by attrition.
Preliminary Budget, miscellaneous issues: Ms. Siegel asked the Board to review a list of changes from the Tentative to the Preliminary budget that she said did not appear to reflect the changes the Board voted on at its November 20th meeting .