By Robin Jovanovich
The final City Council meeting of a calendar year is generally short and without controversy. The budget for the next year has been vetted and trimmed and Councilmembers, City staff, and the handful of citizens in attendance may be more inclined to drift off to White Christmases than reiterate their positions.
But before the mayor called for a vote to adopt a budget, Councilwoman Emily Hurd and other proponents of going ahead with a design study for additional sidewalks and improved pedestrian safety along Forest Avenue made a last push.
Former Councilman Mack Cunningham made a strong case for bringing down the proposed tax increase further. “The environment has changed.” He urged the Council to postpone hiring three new members of the Fire Department on the grounds that lifetime benefits don’t go away.”
In the end, the Council majority voted 5-2 to adopt a budget for 2018 that calls for a tax rate of $172.83 per $1,000 taxable assessed valuation and a tax levy of $24,311,043. The 3.03% tax increase is under the tax cap.
The Council cut $765,000 from the budget initially proposed by the City Manager by using $200,000 from the Fund Balance, trimming their outside legal fees by $100,000, counting on $160,000 in savings from LED lighting, eliminating their $50,000 contribution to Rye Town Park, and deferring a $100,000 Parking Deck study and a $150,000 Forest Avenue Sidewalk study.
Having passed the budget, Mayor Joe Sack announced that the City would provide the opportunity for property owners to prepay the City portion of their 2018 tax bill. Comptroller Joe Fazzino has set up the process. “It is with the proviso that there is a disclaimer by the City.” Whether taxpayers will actually reap tax benefits by prepaying remains a big question, but hundreds of residents contacted City staff and officials this month once passage of the federal tax bill seemed sure. (It passed this week.)
The Council also approved a new retainer agreement with Corporation Counsel Kristen Wilson, who had worked without a raise since 2010. Under the new agreement, her retainer will go from $100,000 to $140,000.
As the December 20 meeting was the last one for Mayor Sack and Councilmembers Julie Killian, Terry McCartney, and Kirsten Bucci, they were given the opportunity to say a few words about their time on the Council. For all, the experience was a good and memorable one. They praised the dedicated City staff, thanked their families for putting up with their absences, and said they were glad to be able to give back to a community they love.
Mr. McCartney said he was proud to add the City Council to his accomplishments. Addressing the mayor, he said, “I’ll be your wing man any time. Looking to the back of the room where the Council-elect sat listening, he said, “I hope you’ll give the Disbrow plan a good look.”
The mayor had the last word. He said, “I’ve had the time of my life.”