City budget meets tax cap

By KATIE HOOS

The New Rochelle City Council, in a unanimous bipartisan vote, adopted the 2014 city budget, coming in at a tax levy increase of 1.63 percent and in line with the New York state mandated tax cap, according to the city manager.

New Rochelle City Hall. File photo

New Rochelle City Hall. File photo

The corresponding tax rate increase for 2014 will be 2.06 percent for New Rochelle property owners.

With intentions to come in below the tax cap, City Manager Chuck Strome came to the Dec. 10 City Council meeting with suggested cuts that would reduce the 2014 budget by $2.2 million. These included $583,577 in health insurance adjustments for government employees, bonding $540,000 for capital improvement projects and giving up rental property valued at $75,000.

But the biggest cut involved reducing the city’s fire hydrant rental fee. Recent state legislation authorizes any municipality using a private water company, such as the New Rochelle supplier United Water, to transfer the cost of fire hydrant rentals to the bills of all water users, including tax-exempt entities. Previously, fire hydrant rentals have been part of the city budget.

The law, signed by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo in November, also mandates that any savings from the transfer of funds be passed on to city taxpayers. Strome said the $1.1 million cut helped decrease the tax levy as well as contribute to the $2.2 million reduction in property taxes.

The final budget adjustments also included a nearly $1.6 million increase in salaries and benefits for the fire department. The New Rochelle Fire Department, as well as four other city unions that recently reached contractual agreements with the city, is owed retroactive pay dating back to 2011. The fire department’s current contract covers from 2011 until 2020.

“The contract was signed after the budget was proposed,” Strome said. “The money was in a contingency account and we just had to wait for the signed contract and transfer the money over.”

The adopted budget turned out to be a far cry from what was initially proposed in November by Strome, a budget which called for a 5.83 percent levy increase, which would have meant a 6.52 percent tax rate increase for taxpayers. The levy increase would have pushed far beyond the New York State mandated 1.63 percent tax cap and would have cost an extra $207 per year for the average New Rochelle homeowner.

The adopted budget, with a total city expenditure of $167 million, down from the proposed $169.2 million, is roughly a $13.5 million increase from the current year’s budget and will cost an extra $65 for the average homeowner.

The 2013 budget was over the state tax cap with a 5.57 percent tax levy increase and required a supermajority vote by the council to override the law. The current year’s budget also carried a 6.99 percent tax rate increase.

Strome said the budget, which includes capital improvement projectssuch as improving drainage at Halcyon Park, replacing traffic lights on Main and Huguenot streets, and purchasing a fire truck and DPW trucks—never included funding for the failed Echo Bay project. The proposed budget listed Echo Bay, along with the reconstruction of the armory, as a prioritized project, but never allocated specific funding for it.

“[Echo Bay] was listed as a project in the proposed budget,” Strome said. “There was never any funding included.”

Contact: katie@hometwn.com