November is the month the City holds a series of workshops and presents a proposed budget for the following year.
By Robin Jovanovich
November is the month the City holds a series of workshops and presents a proposed budget for the following year. A public hearing on the proposal is set for the Council’s December 3 meeting. A final budget must be passed by the end of the year, and usually is at the last regular Council meeting of the year.
What’s newsworthy about the proposed 2015 budget is that it includes hiring additional City staff, something the City held back from doing for several years, not only because of the recession but also because of exponentially rising benefit costs.
The budget presented at the November 5 Council meeting calls for hiring four new paid firefighters; an Assistant City Manager responsible for emergency response planning and administration, as well as oversight of fire services; and the restoration of two City positions that were eliminated in recent years due to cost-cutting: Assistant Recreation Superintendent and Park Foreman. The Recreation Commission will assume oversight of the Boat Basin under this plan.
Previous Councils had resisted adding new members to the Fire Department because while the number of calls has increased, the number of fires has continued to decline. The City feels there is now just cause owing to the attrition of volunteers (only one-third of the listed volunteers are active). If approved, each duty shift will have four, not three, paid firefighters starting in 2016.
Presenting his 24th City budget, City Manager Frank Culross stated that it was “time for the City to rebuild its organization at capacity.”
Infrastructure improvements are also an integral part of the recommended $50,765,000 budget, notably among them the reconstruction of the “Five Corners” intersection (Grace Church/Midland/Manursing); $2.3 million of energy efficiencies at City Hall; replacement of the Brevoort Lane main; and increased spending on street resurfacing. What is recommended, based on an updated pavement management study released in October, is to increase annual spending on street resurfacing to $1 million and maintain that level for the next decade. The construction of a new cable TV studio with new equipment at City Hall is also planned.
The Rye Free Reading Room board of trustees requested an increase in City funding from $1,170,000 to $1,250,000, and in the preliminary budget would receive $1,195,000. The City also agreed to provide up to $15,000 in legal advice to the Library from the City’s labor attorney.
Under long-established fiscal policy, the City keeps no less than a 5 percent reserve in the General Fund. While the percentage will remain way above the minimum in 2015, the amount maintained in the Fund is on a downward path — $12 million in 2012 and forecast to be just above $9 million at the end of 2015. For several years, the Council has chosen to take money from the General Fund for operating expenses rather than raise property taxes. The proposed 2015 budget is atypical in that it raises property taxes and decreases the General Fund.
In the proposed budget there is no planned increase in Police or Boat Basin personnel, membership fees will remain unchanged at Rye Golf Club, and there will be no change in City services.