Column: We’re getting squeezed from all sides over here

Mayor-MarvinAt the February monthly meeting, the trustees acted on a myriad of substantive issues in the areas of taxes, public works and public utilities.

The board joined a consortium with neighboring communities—which includes New Rochelle, Eastchester, Ardsley, Tuckahoe, Dobbs Ferry, Hastings, Pelham and Pelham Manor—to challenge a proposed astronomical raise in water cost and hydrant maintenance by our water purveyor, United Water.

United Water is asking the state’s Public Service Commission for a 22.95 percent increase in water rates and a whopping 36.99 percent increase in hydrant maintenance fees. Sadly for the consumer, the Public Service Commission has been very willing to grant double-digit increases to the utility. As example, the village’s hydrant maintenance fees were $84,244 in 2011 and, in just two years, escalated to $126,637. This number is now the base for the proposed 36.99 percent increase.

The above scenario underscores why all water users, not just property tax payers, should share in the cost of hydrant maintenance.

Unfortunately, we have no recourse to change water providers since United Water owns all the purveyance infrastructure. All we can do is present a united front with our neighbors and legislators and fight the increases.

In the same vein, the New York State Power Authority recently authorized a 12.6 percent increase in the cost of municipal electrical rates and the hike was reflected in our January invoice.

The trustees also voted to engage the services of a local consultant, Donald Marra, to assist in the search for a new village treasurer and village administrator. We are also taking advantage in this unprecedented sea change in village management to step back and review village staffing in totality to ensure that we have the right combination of skill sets, full and part-time staff, and the level of efficiency and services that taxpayers deserve.

The village’s tax collection was recently reconciled. As a refresher, the village collects approximately $8 million to run the village and $38 million to operate the school. As of Jan. 31, 2014, $1,138,892.86 was uncollected, representing 2.46 percent of the levy.

The village must make the school district whole, so tax liens will be sold on March 13, 2014. Per New York State law, the lien sale will be noticed in the paper of record. A list of real estate parcels identified by section, block and lot on which taxes remain unpaid is available in the village treasurer’s office.

Funded in past capital budgets, the trustees voted to engage Calgi Construction Management to evaluate the Department of Public Works facility on Palumbo Place. Never modernized since its construction in the mid-1940s, a thorough evaluation is long overdue. The goal of the review is to determine whether the existing facility is worthy of modifications to meet the needs and equipment of a 2014 department or rather it is more prudent and cost effective to construct a new or pre-fab structure. Our current facility will be evaluated with regard to vehicle maintenance needs, equipment and material storage, material handling, electrical needs, environmental regulations and en–
ergy efficiency.

Add to this list, the now unprecedented costs for salt and snow removal resulting in another challenging budget process.

All of the above variables are set in the backdrop of the governor’s continued emphasis on a 2 percent tax cap increase despite the fact that state government unfunded mandates continue unabated while state aid to communities continues to decrease.

The fallacy of the 2 percent tax cap is that, well before its inception, no communities were increasing staffing and/or services by 2 percent, rather they were trimming services to deal with the often double-digit tax increases sent directly from Albany.

At the February trustees meeting, the trustees, as is custom, voted to set the process in motion to override the tax cap, though we have only exceeded the 2 percent cap once and that by only $40,000. Our vote is rather a statement of support for local control of budgetary decisions. The trustees believe we are elected to be stewards of the local taxpayers’ dollars and answerable only and directly to them and not be an instrument to advance the political aspirations of others.

Finally, we have added a special meeting/work session of the Board of Trustees for Wednesday, Feb. 19, to chiefly discuss our upcoming capital program.