By CHRIS EBERHART
Eastchester Supervisor Anthony Colavita, a Republican, said the 2014 proposed town budget has been stripped of fat and excess spending and will incorporate the consolidation of two town departments.
What’s left is a $34.8 million town budget—which includes Eastchester, Bronxville and Tuckahoe—that remains under the state mandated 1.66 percent tax levy cap, something that has been accomplished by Colavita since the tax cap went into effect in 2011.
The tax cap levy is the total amount of money that can be raised through property taxes to cover public services and is the number capped by state legislation while the tax rate fluctuates with the property values.
The 2014 budget, first proposed back on Nov. 7, carries with it a 2.77 percent tax rate increase in Eastchester, which equates to an extra $5.46 per month for the average home owner, and 3.36-percent increase for the villages of Tuckahoe and Bronxville, which equates to an extra .67 cents and $2 per month, respectively.
“The budget gets harder and harder every year, especially with the pension contribution, which is one of our budget mandates,” Councilman Frank Salanitro, a Republican, said in reference to the $3 million the town pays annually to the pension system. “We’re cutting part of the bone at this point, but we have to make these cuts to stay under the cap. We’ve been successful in doing that, but not without any pain.”
Colavita said, after staffing consolidations, privatizing, and offering retirement packages, there was only a marginal increase of $134,000, which equates to a 0.004 percent spending increase, from last year’s budget.
This year, Colavita said golf course maintenance at Lake Isle and grass cutting were both privatized, which saved $300,000 and $85,000 respectively. He said there’s a consolidation of two departments coming shortly, although the supervisor wouldn’t provide specifics, that will save $75,000 in the first year and upwards of $100,000 the year after, and four town employees accepted retirement incentives sent out in October in the highway department, comptroller’s office and recreation department, which will save the town in employee benefits and salaries.
Despite the savings, Colavita’s view of the future is grim.
He said the pension payments, which he said have increased 3,000 percent since 2003—$101,000 to $3 million—is killing the town. He said, if the payments were half, “we would never exceed the tax cap or have cuts in service or staffing.”
Another cause for concern is the financial state of the Eastchester library.
Last year, the library encountered the most pain after the Town Council slashed its budget by $183,000 on top of the money the Town Council took out of the library’s reserve to supplement the library’s budget. Library Director Tracy Wright said the loss was felt in staffing; the library had to cut two positions during 2013.
Robert Cartolano, president of the Eastchester library Board of Trustees, said he was pleased there were no cuts this year, and the budget will remain flat at $1.8 million. Wright was tentatively optimistic, but she expressed concern about the library’s dwindling fund balance after losing another $125,000 this year to supplement the library’s budget.
“Last year, we were hit very hard,” Wright said. “But at least this year we have a flat budget. We are just concerned about the library’s balance fund because we’ve been losing money for the past three or four years because we’ve needed to use it to supplement the budget.”
Even though the library’s funding wasn’t cut, the situation remains bleak, according to Wright.
“We’re really down to the bare bone minimum right now,” she said.
Town Councilman Glenn Bellitto, a Republican, commended the library for its ability to persevere, raising its own money through fundraisers and donations.
“The library took some lumps last year,” Bellitto said. “But [the library] took the cuts better better than expected, and the Eastchester library and the library board rose like a phoenix in the face of adversity. The progress that’s been made—between the fundraising and fixing up the library structure—is really extraordinary.”
The library used tag sales and book sales along with fundraisers such as a wine and cheese night with baskets auctioned off, in addition to donations from members and businesses in the town to raise funding necessary to renovate the children’s library. That, coupled with donations from the Friends of the Eastchester Public Library, services such as the summer reading game, which includes 600-700 students a year and includes daily prizes, were preserved.
The budget will be voted on and if it passes, adopted at the final Town Council meeting of the year on Dec. 17.
In the meantime, Colavita said he and the board will continue to go over the budget and likely make minor cuts to bring spending and taxes down.