Proposed 2019 City Budget
Leaves No Protest Footprint
By Robin Jovanovich
An amazing thing happened at the December 5 City Council meeting, the public hearing on the tentative 2019 City of Rye Budget was brief, orderly, and calm. Only two residents came to the podium: Bertrand de Frondeville, who has been the City’s unofficial but very much appreciated financial watchdog for decades, and Ryan Prime, who is head of the Disbrow Park Conservancy.
The City Budget is traditionally presented the night after Election Day by the City Manager and Comptroller and voted on at the Council’s final meeting of the year, which this year is December 19. Typically, the Council Room is filled with residents and representatives of nonprofits who come to ask that more or less be spent, and always with an eye to keeping the tax increase low.
The proposed $40.9 million budget, which calls for a 2.28% tax increase, didn’t set off any alarms — the first time in recent memory. Perhaps because the increase for 2018 was 3.03; in part because the Budget document was redesigned and is easily comprehensible with large pie charts and graphs; and further because the Rye Finance Committee added greatly to citizens’ understanding of City expenditures and revenues.
Mr. de Frondeville applauded the authors of the Budget presentation for the inclusion of two years of Actual-Audited numbers for every budget item. “This is the first time both the City and the School District have adopted that format after years of citizen effort.”
His recommendations to the Council, which he included in a one-page memo, are: using more of the Undesignated Fund Balance to fund capital expenses (“keeping an 11.1% cushion, which earns a very low return, seems excessive at 3.7 times the 3% maximum allowed by New York State for school districts”); optimizing current Police personnel and consideration of changing the retirement age; and making sure the increase in costs at The Rye Free Reading Room are warranted (“Do we need to hire a Deputy Director to replace a position which was formerly filled part-time by a recently retired Research staff member?”).
Mr. Prime’s primary concern is that the 2019 Capital Improvement Plan calls for a $5.4 million investment in Disbrow Park with no long-term vision for the park. “We held an event at the Park in mid-November and landscaped the entrance while lots of children played and ran all over the Park.” He asked that the Council consider setting up a citizen’s task force or partner with the Conservancy.
Mayor Cohn commented that the City is already committed to the DPW projects. “And these projects are urgent,” noted Deputy Mayor Emily Hurd. “We must replace the Salt Shed because we didn’t have any place to store salt last winter, and the garage which is falling down and in which the new City garbage trucks wouldn’t fit.”
Responding to Mr. Prime’s remark about the lack of vision, Councilmember Danielle Tagger-Epstein said, “In public workshops last year we learned that the City can’t afford big plans for Disbrow Park. Whatever the Disbrow Conservancy can do will be appreciated, but we all have to envision the Park with DPW there. The footprint isn’t changing.”
The proposed 2019 Budget apparently isn’t changing either. It’s helpful to be reminded that 59% of Rye tax dollars go to the School District, 24% to the County, 16% to the City, and 1% to the Library. Fifty-eight percent of the City’s Public Safety budget goes to Police and 31% to Fire.
In 2019, $1 million will be allocated for street resurfacing, $350,000 for sewers and drains, $100,000 for traffic lights and pedestrian safety, and $80,000 for sidewalks.
Operating expenses are going up modestly, while retiree health insurance costs are increasing by $329,160, employee health insurance costs by $176,917, and administrative salaries by $126,937.
The proposed 2019 City Budget can be found on the City of Rye website, www.ryeny.gov.