Turn to the Capital and Building & Vehicle Funding page of the City’s 2012 Proposed Budget packet handed out at the first of the budget workshops November 9 and peer into the murky future.
By Robin Jovanovich
Turn to the Capital and Building & Vehicle Funding page of the City’s 2012 Proposed Budget packet handed out at the first of the budget workshops November 9 and peer into the murky future. Column A shows the funding level for 2011, column B the proposed 2012 amounts. It’s not difficult to do the math, because mindful of the state tax cap and declining assessed valuation, City staff recommend zero spending on street resurfacing, sidewalks and curbs, sewers and drains, and police cars. The only street resurfacing that will be done is through assistance from CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program).
Our allowable tax levy, without an override, is $20,207,657. Staff came up with a $20,400,097 levy, $192,440 over the limit.
While paychecks and retirement savings accounts may not be going up for most residents, state employee retirement expenses will be 16% higher than last year, Police and Fire retirement expenses up 20%, employee health insurance costs are going up 9%, and Rye’s funding contribution to Rye Town Park could increase by 200% because the park is expected to lose $150,000 this year.
Core levels of service will be maintained, but the budget includes no increases in funding for internal departments, other than mandated expenses, and assumes no revenue increases in sales and mortgage taxes. With these revenue and expense projections, the Fund Balance will be down to a “dangerously low” $2,000,000, said Comptroller Jean Gribbins. After presenting the proposed budget, she outlined what the tax cap means.
While 2011 was a challenging year, because we started nearly $100,000 in the red because of the fall in assessed value, City Manager Scott Pickup said that the tax cap only increases the degree of difficulty. The fact that all four bargaining unit contracts expire at the end of this year, and the budget assumes no increases to those contracts, raises more financial concerns.
At the next budget workshop, November 14, Mayor Doug French began, “This is the first time in 25 years we’ve had back-to-back reduced tax assessments. The drop in wealth in Rye is real, and the ability of citizens to pay is a real concern. We’re using this as an opportunity to transform operations. My questions will be: How do we do things differently? How will we pay?”
Two user groups were on that evening’s agenda, EMS and the Rye Free Reading Room. Mr. Pickup said, “The EMS is one of our success stories — an inter-municipal organization that offers high quality service to three communities. For the third year in a row their contract is flat. The EMS Committee is very active and all services are met. We can point to this proudly.”
EMS Administrator Scott Moore proved all those statements true in his presentation on operation and recovery costs. “The big nut is payroll,” he explained. “We have 15 full-time staff and up to 30 part-time staff and volunteers. Recruitment and retention is difficult in this field because we don’t offer retirement benefits, and every three years staff has to go for training and certification.” But he’s buoyed by the professionalism of his staff and the generosity of the community.
The discussion with the library didn’t have a great introduction or a happy conclusion. The proposed budget holds funding level at $1,080,000. Library representatives have asked for an additional $75,000, without which they maintain they’ll have to close another day. They made the case that the library is a valued and well-used institution — 92% of residents visited this year, not just for library services but also for Y programs and not-for-profit meetings, and art exhibits.
They spent $86,000 on the restoration of the Children’s Room after the flooding at the end of the summer. They’re trying to get a $50,000 grant to replace the heating system, which will cost nearly twice that amount. Board President Debra Julian said their endowment, at $1,500,000, is still not back to its 2008 level.
Councilman Joe Sack said he was “frustrated that you have a new floor but you can’t sustain it without shutting down an extra day to increase operations on the days you’re open.” He added, “If the headline in the newspapers is ‘Library Forced to Shut because of City Council’, that’s not accurate.”
Library Director Kitty Little made the point that the service model is changing to reflect the use they see today.
Councilman Peter Jovanovich moved the conversation to another topic — the library contract that expires this year into the discussion. “The current contract is unsustainable, with 5 to 6% annual increases, when the average taxpayer is getting 1% and senior citizens nothing.”
Library board members responded that the contracts “are in line with other libraries and that the City employee contracts are worse.”
Mr. Jovanovich said, “A valid comparison is what the average resident gets, not what a Civil Service employee gets. They live in a parallel universe.”
Stay tuned on the 2012 budget. A public hearing is scheduled for December 7.