Our capital budget of $3.5 million, almost $1 million more than our last capital outlay, reflects the realization of a 100-year-old plus aging infrastructure of our village. The only thing more costly than addressing issues now will be the cost of deferred maintenance. We are addressing our underground water and sanitary sewer systems as a first priority as well as a resurfacing and curbing program of a record number of village streets. In addition, New York State awarded the village a competitive grant of $350,000 to equip the Garden Avenue parking lot with a series of French drains to mitigate the flood waters that descend down Garden Avenue to the school complex, helping both the school and residents in its path. Our required contribution is a capital expenditure of $100,000 in cash and $20,000 of in-kind services.
A significant dollar amount was also allotted to address both the quality and efficiency of lighting throughout the village.
In every capital budget, there are also major allocations for the normal, but high-ticket turnover of village vehicles. Police cars run 24/7 and sanitation equipment is stored, unfortunately, outside. Vehicles reach a useful life and then the law of diminishing returns takes over with repairs becoming non-economical.
Another area of significant capital expenditure is technology upgrades in village departments across the board in an effort to increase the village’s efficiency and document retrieval system. You may notice parking tickets may now be paid online with a credit card, just a tip of the iceberg of conveniences we hope to offer residents by year’s end. Police officers and parking enforcement officers also have all converted to writing any violations with hand-held computers, thus eliminating the mistakes inherent in written transcription and then tabulation.
The Building Department is also converting property records to computerization in an effort to offer residents and realtors faster information transfer as well as eliminating the village’s need for copious storage space going forward.
The above decisions were aided by our very advantageous bond rating of Aaa, the best we can achieve, which makes long-term borrowing opportune given the current economic climate. Combining very favorable interest rates with the knowledge of the future expense of delayed maintenance made many of our decisions prudently obvious.
The operating budget was a much more difficult challenge. From 2008 to the present, we trimmed staff to achieve savings and, in two successive years, achieved a 0 percent tax increase. However, gauging the needs of the resident taxpayers, it became apparent we had trimmed beyond the level of services residents expect in the village. Though our departments—police, buildings and public works—will still remain at 50-year plus historic manning lows, we did backfill one position in each of the police and public works departments and actually added a position in the building and Public Works Department to facilitate the move to computerized records as well as to increase response time to residents’ questions and needs.
In the predictable, recurring costs, we were fortunate last year’s double-digit pension and healthcare costs leveled-off for a bit with healthcare only increasing by a surprisingly low 3 percent. However, increases in unfunded mandates from Albany simply returned locally on another line item, that of state workmen’s compensation contributions, which increased an unsustainable 20 to 30 percent depending on which village department. Workmen’s compensation charges are this year’s example of why a 2 percent tax cap is such hypocrisy and why spending responsibility must begin in Albany.
Village utility costs are increasing 5 to 10 percent in the year ahead, though we hope our lighting initiatives will decrease the costs in the near future.
After two years of 0 percent salary increases, our Village Hall staffers received a 1 percent increase in the new budget.
On the good news front, we conservatively anticipate sales tax, mortgage tax and building permit revenue to increase as a result of an uptick in the economy as well as the many projects being undertaken in the village in 2014-2015.
The trustees had the impending upheaval associated with these projects in mind–be it the continuing Lawrence Hospital project, the Parkway Road Bridge closure, the FEMA flood mitigation, the school’s auditorium renovation and the Kensington Road development–necessary but unprecedented in village history, as we redoubled efforts to find tax relief for residents. The end result is a 1.79 percent tax rate increase, which was reached after incredibly careful deliberation.
The relatively small increases, though tax increases nonetheless, will provide residents with better services going forward as well as much needed repair of an aging infrastructure. Both the capital and operating budgets are available at Village Hall for review.