For the past several months, the City Manager and Comptroller and City staff have been putting together a tentative City budget for 2018. The sum of that work is a weighty 376-page document that has been presented to the City Council, which is now doing its due diligence. Department heads have made their own budget presentations at public workshops this month.
Residents can tune to RyeTV for a preliminary understanding of what’s been proposed or read the budget in full on the City website. The Council encourages the community to attend the December 6 meeting at which there will be a public hearing on the 2018 budget and consideration of adopting a local law overriding the state-mandated tax cap. The Council will vote to adopt a final budget December 20, its last regular meeting of the year.
The proposed $39.4 million budget requires a 6.23 percent tax increase and an override vote to fund the estimated $2,615,389 increase in expenditures over 2017. Rye’s tax cap for 2018 is 1.84%.
The biggest contributors to that increase are:
• $504,227 in employee health insurance;
• $259,000 in Fire Department salaries (including three additional firemen);
• $214,899 in Administrative salaries;
• $114,150 in retiree salaries;
• $70,377 in Clerical Department salaries; and
• $55,088 in Police Department salaries.
There are a lot of unknowns in every budget year, but with four expired union contracts there are even more. City Manager Marcus Serrano cited that as one of the reasons for a tax increase. He stated another financial concern in the proposed budget: Owing to an increase in tax certioraris and subsequent property tax reductions, “the 2018 taxable value has decreased for the first time in many years.”
At the November 8 City Council meeting, Serrano said, “We cut $163,000 from the proposed budget total from various department heads, but it’s a difficult time to keep taxes down. We are not able to meet the tax cap. I wish I had better news for the Council and the public.” He added, “We’ve been operating on a very lean budget for a very long time. Only two times has the increase been over 5%, and both of those times have been in the last two years. With interest rates on the rise, it may be time to look at debt [a bond] for capital projects.”
Mayor Joe Sack asked Serrano and Comptroller Joe Fazzino to show the Council what a tax-compliant budget would look like. “The Council may want to stay within the tax cap. At a minimum, for illustrative purposes, it will help the public understand.”
Councilman Terry McCartney went a step further, “Don’t just find us the $744,000 [the amount the proposed budget is over the cap by]; find us a million dollars.”
The Comptroller offered, “We generally do better than we budget for our General Fund.” He pointed to an additional $560,000 in building permit revenues and $75,000 in parking fine revenues.
At the November 13 Budget workshop, City Engineer Ryan Coyne provided details of DPW operations and what funding the department needs to keep service levels where they are. At the top of his list are six new sanitation trucks to replace ones that have outlived their efficiency.
City Planner Christian Miller then gave a presentation on the basic 2018 Capital projects: $1 million for street resurfacing, $80,000 for Pedestrian improvements; $100,000 for Sewers and Drainage; and $100,000 for Traffic Signals and Safety improvements. “You could almost call these operating expenses,” he quipped.
On to the revised costs of planned projects, Miller said that an additional $400,000 is needed for the Locust Avenue Sewer Siphon — “the connection serves the entire Central Business District.” To move forward with the Forest Avenue Pedestrian Improvement Study, for which the City did not receive a grant, will cost $150,000. At that point Councilman Richard Mecca interjected: “Six years ago, we were going to move the snowfield across from the high school and build a new road to the Nature Center so we can disband that unsafe bridge over the brook.” He was emphasizing the need to stick with priorities.
The Purchase/Fremd/Purdy intersection is described as “urgent priority” in the Capital Improvement Program presented earlier this year. That will cost $100,000 in design fees, noted Miller. “The estimated total cost is $600,000. We’ve been talking about it for ten years.”
Another $100,000 is needed to fund the Central Business District Car Park Improvement and Deck Feasibility Study. Miller noted that a number of years ago, the cost of decking Car Park 5 (adjacent to CVS) was close to $2 million.
“We don’t want to do short-term improvements,” stressed Miller.
Budget discussions will continue at the November 29 City Council meeting.