Proposed 2020 Budget Increased a Notch, and Mostly Without a Hitch
BY ROBIN JOVANOVICH
At the penultimate City Council meeting of 2019 on December 4, at which the proposed budget was amended and formalized — it will be finalized at the December 18 meeting — there were no surprises, no last-minute pleas for additional allocations.
The only protestation came from former Councilman and longtime resident Gerry Seitz. He came to the podium, staying much longer than the allotted three minutes, with specific questions about line items in the budget. For the City’s long-term viability, he urged the Council to limit hiring new personnel and engaging outside counsel. “As I see it, we’re eating into our reserves,” Seitz offered. “At the end of the day, we need to look for additional revenues and get the Council’s commitment to do it.”
City Manager Greg Usry explained that the net increase in staff proposed for 2020 is not ten, as Seitz maintained, but one. Legal fees this year were high, approximately $400,000, but Usry noted that much of the cost was related to three outstanding labor contracts.
On the need for new revenues, no one on the Council disagreed. Councilwoman Julie Souza said, “It’s a subject we discuss at length regularly.”
The City Manager emphasized that the City doesn’t run a deficit and is not using reserves to pay for operations. “It wouldn’t be prudent financial planning to do so, and the operating budget is sufficient to pay for operations.”
As for new hires, many to fill vacant positions, the City has budgeted for an assistant city manager, an assistant to the city engineer, and one new policeman, which will bring the Rye Police force to 37.
In 2019, the City benefitted from $1,000,000 more in revenues than budgeted, in part due to the sales tax increase. At the end of 2019, the City’s fund balance will be $4,000,000, noted Comptroller Joe Fazzino. City policy calls for a 10 percent reserve, and anything above that amount is put into the General Fund.
The amended 2020 budget, which calls for a 1.71 percent tax increase, includes a funding increase of $10,000 to the Rye Free Reading Room, an increase of $11,500 to the EMS (only their second increase in the last ten years, said Usry), and an additional $125,000 to the Building & Vehicle Maintenance Fund to replace equipment. “We haven’t done a review of our fleet, but we will early next year,” said Usry. “Next year we will need to replace one fire truck at a cost of $500,000 to $550,000, and we will need to pay for it out of available funds.”
The funding increases are offset, in part, by $144,000 in additional revenue from Rye Recreation, which adjusted its camp fees.
After the Council unanimously voted to approve the amendments to the proposed budget, Councilmember Richard Mecca remarked that this was his sixth budget since being elected to the Council. “Hats off to City staff, which reviews every cost carefully.” Councilman Ben Stacks also applauded the Finance Committee for “helping the City reach its goal of making the budgeting process transparent for all.”
It is worth noting that one group not benefitting from this budget is the Rye Cable and Communications Committee. Upon learning that Rye was the only Westchester community whose cable fees went directly to RyeTV, rather than running through the General Fund, the City transferred the accrued fees, which the Committee planned to use to purchase updated equipment and build a new studio, to the General Fund. Mayor Josh Cohn told the paper, “The Schools Superintendent assured us that they are not asking RyeTV to relocate their studio. The question RyeTV needs to answer is whether the technology they want is appropriate for their public/educational/government access work.”
The public hearing on the 2020 budget remains open until the December 18 Council meeting.