December 8, 2015
2016 Budget Hearing
Although Supervisor Grace said the budget hearing was scheduled for 6pm to allow sufficient time for all residents to speak without going too late in the evening, only one person, Don Roberts, representing the United Taxpayers of Yorktown, addressed the board. The Supervisor’s comment on the starting time was in response to my apology to residents for what I considered an inconsiderate and inconvenient starting time; prior to 2013, budget hearings began at either 7pm or 7:30pm.
One resident did email in a question about certain expenses at the YCCC.
Having addressed the board at several past budget hearings, the general thrust of Mr. Roberts’ comments this year was how the board has ignored the UTY’s previous comments, including repeated commitments for certain changes, including creating a citizens budget committee and reviewing the financial books of some of the athletic clubs before automatically giving them an annual subsidy payment simply because that’s the way it’s always been done. Mr. Roberts also asked what happened to the commitment for a fund balance policy and clarification as to whether the policy would apply to the entire fund balance or only that portion that accounting designated as “unassigned,” i.e., available to be used for any purpose. Other than asking that more fund balance be used be used to reduce the projected tax rate, he said he wasn’t going to go through the budget line by line with the board because based on past experience it was a waste of time. He did, however, question the $100,000 contingency line item, noting that it’s always in the budget but is never used.
In comments both before and after Mr. Roberts spoke, Supervisor Grace gave an overview of the Preliminary Budget which was exactly the same as the Tentative Budget he had submitted to the Town Board in October. He called preparing the budget a “formidable task” and said that expenses had remained basically flat, tax rates had been staple over his four budgets and that the town has stayed within the tax cap levy. He also explained the unpredictable nature of certain revenues like sales tax and mortgage tax that affected the fund balance and how the size of the fund balance affected the town’s bond rating. And, without mentioning any names, he took exception to the characterization in the media that the town had become addicted to using fund balance to balance the budget.
When both Councilman Patel and I expressed our concern that expenses were rising faster than non tax revenue and that fund balance was being used to fill the gap, Supervisor Grace asked if we wanted to make any changes to the budget. In response I said no. I explained that after it became clear during the board’s November budget review that there were three votes in support of the Supervisor’s October budget, I didn’t bother to offer any resolutions to make changes in the Preliminary Budget. I did, however, indicate that I was not happy with the fact that the budget included estimates, not firm numbers, for two major expense items, medical benefits and insurance premiums, and that I had not received other expense information that I had requested so that I could evaluate whether a budgeted amount was inflated. I suggested that the board could delay voting on the budget until the December 20th adoption deadline when it would have firmer cost figures. I also agreed with Mr. Roberts that with approximately $5 million available in the fund balance, the $100,000 contingency expense was not needed. Focusing in on the Water District budget, I noted that the entire $4.4 million fund balance had been committed to balancing the 2015 and 2016 budgets.
The budget was adopted by a 3-2 vote with Councilman Patel and me voting no.
In other business…..
Auction: The board accepted the $95,000 and $150,000 bids for two properties it had taken in rem (foreclosure). Both were houses. When Councilman Patel asked if the bids covered the amount of money the town had paid out over the years in school and county taxes on the two properties, no one had the answer.
I noted that there were very few bidders at the auction and that the lack of advertising probably contributed to the low turnout; the auction was only advertised on the town’s web site. In contrast, I noted that when an earlier auction was conducted by an outside company, it was widely advertised and there were many more bidders. I also called attention to the fact that three abutting properties that had also sold at the auction as a group had not been included in the agenda; the town attorney said this was an oversight.
Compass Westchester (Constellation Recovery)
In an item not on the public meeting agenda, the board met with Tom McCrossan for an update on the facility. (According to the resolution granting the special permit, there was supposed to be a review of whether the applicant had complied with all the conditions of the resolution, as well as a general six month review.) Although the discussion took place as part of the board’s closed executive session prior to the advertised 6pm start of the meeting, Supervisor Grace said that the meeting was “open” to the public, to which I replied: how open is open when the public is not told that the discussion will be taking place.
In a memo to the board, the building inspector reported that the facility has complied with all the conditions of the permit. Mr. McCrossan said there have been between 5-7 people at the facility and that after the recent incident involving a female resident, the decision was made not to have female residents. Two residents are/have received scholarships to offset the cost of their stay at the facility. One resident has been at the facility for six months. Some have jobs and one is attending school.