On Wednesday, April 11, the village board will be presenting its annual budget. It is a project that involved months of preparation, debate and hard choices. A checking and a rechecking of structural balances in the budget, the consistency and appropriateness of estimated revenues as well as appropriations and fund balances are critical in monitoring the fiscal health of our community.
There is little question that mounting and ominous signs of fiscal stress has been observed throughout the entire financial infrastructure of New York State resulting in heightened interest in intermunicipal cooperation and consolidation to reduce costs.
Local governments depend very heavily on local property taxes and every study shows that New York State has just about the highest local property taxes in the nation. Over the last 10 years, growth in property taxes has easily exceeded the rate in inflation and growth in all other local revenues, including sales tax, state aid and other non-tax revenues.
In light of the above, it is a delicate balance indeed for local officials to achieve the delivery of municipal services the public expects and fiscal responsibility. Amid this barrage of financial pressures stretching from accelerated local Medicaid costs, binding arbitration, pensions, unfunded mandates, a state revenue sharing and school aid program that falls woefully short of its obligations has given birth to a tax burden that appears confiscatory and whose impacts on residents balancing their own household budgets are conspicuous and insidious.
This year, a nearly $650,000 increase in our police budget, due to an arbitrated settlement pursuant to law, was imposed on the village after several years of intense negotiations bore no fruit. In addition, employee benefits, again due to contractual obligations, increased $181,000.
I'm pleased that despite being burdened by these pressures, our village has managed to maintain fiscal health, improve efficiency, manage costs and protect assets. More importantly, we've accomplished this without remotely approaching Constitutional limits on revenue levied through property taxes, reducing our reliance on debt and without resorting to deficit financing to finance our operating costs.
The only good news on the tax front is that the increase in levies or tax rates (as measured in dollars paid per $1,000 of home value) declined because of the extraordinary increase in the value of homes over the past several years especially here in Floral Park.
If reformers are really serious about tax relief (and they should be) in the downstate area, attention must be focused on the basic structure of revenue sharing, state and federal regulatory law, intergovernmental aid, binding arbitration and a cap on overall spending that can only be achieved when partisans on both sides of the aisle stop trying to be all things to all people.
The FAA has announced, rather suddenly, a scheduled meeting for noise mitigation in the much-heralded "Airspace Redesign Plan" Monday, April 23, at the New York LaGuardia Airport Marriott Hotel. The hotel is located on 102-05 Ditmars Boulevard, East Elmhurst, and the hearing will be from 6 until 10 p.m.
As a result, the April 23 TVASNAC meeting that was scheduled here in Floral Park is being cancelled to allow our residents and concerned public officials to attend the FAA Noise Mitigation meeting.
The FAA announced that they would be holding only one meeting per state. This is unacceptable. To begin with, the Airspace Redesign Plan had nothing to do with noise mitigation and the impacts it would have on the quality of life on nearby residential neighborhoods. The plan was almost wholly concerned with making arrival and departure flights more efficient and this last minute noise mitigation hearing announced only March 23 appears to be more about window dressing than addressing real relief from aircraft noise.
In an interview on Channel 12 news, I promptly called upon Senators Clinton and Schumer as well as Congresswoman McCarthy to come to our assistance with all dispatch and follow the example of Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey in calling for more than one public hearing in each of the five affected states. Residents throughout the entire region need more opportunities to raise their concerns.
In addition, I have sent a letter to each of our federal representatives requesting a meeting to discuss (1) the soon to be finalized Northeast Airspace Redesign; (2) funding for noise mitigation within our region; (3) specific aircraft traffic concerns of the residents of Floral Park.
Although the FAA says it is working on a variety of plans to ease noise, such as routing planes over less densely populated areas, having jets fly higher as well as descending in a way that uses less engine power it also has the potential of bringing more noisy jets along the Northeast corridor - and that means us.
Moreover, in that same interview, I have once again called upon the Port Authority to install noise monitors to measure the current volume, which I believe exceeds the allowable noise threshold. Aircraft safety and efficiency are important concerns; so is the quality of life of residents who live under flight paths. Members of the village board will be present at the April 23 meeting.
Several weeks ago, I met with the mayors of the communities impacted by the proposed third track. We discussed strategies, spoke of recent developments and in true Musketeer fashion, pledged one for all and all for one.
Following this meeting, I met with those residents whose properties are contiguous or are in close proximity to the downscaled third track proposal. The meeting was well-attended. After reviewing the entire history of the proposed mega-project, our current plans, including the retention of Beveridge and Diamond, a nationally recognized environmental law firm, I invited public comments that were very helpful in forging a strategy to move ahead. Two key points were agreed upon: (1) We will not concede any part of Floral Park to the MTA; (2) We will remain vigilant against any attempt of the MTA to reverse its decision to scale down the project.
Repeated attempts to meet with recently elected state Senator Craig Johnson have not yet materialized. I will have much more to say on that particular subject in due course.
Even as he neared the venerable age of three score and ten inhaling, as he invariably did, the ever-present cigarette, Jim Krug's taut, honed physique bespoke of someone who embodied a natural, sinewy athleticism. Appearance in this case was not deceiving for his youth was marked with an athletic grace long remembered by those who had lustily cheered his exploits.
But those who knew him in later years, years that eventually crystallized into an unruffled maturity recall another kind of grace - a serene, inner spirituality that belied the competitive fires that had once fueled his greatest achievements.
His virtues, unselfish and generous, were well-suited for a small town like Floral Park where his family lineage was ancient, his roots deep and his friendships numberless. I was one of the countless who was privileged to call Jim a friend and like a multitude of others, was deeply moved by the news of his death.
Modest, well-mannered, almost courtly in conversation, Jim Krug's life exemplified good citizenship, neighborliness and for those who knew him best, sincere friendship. The easy smile, the kind word, the always-helping hand explains the outpouring of grief that would have surely surprised and embarrassed him. Even now, two weeks after his passing, something seems amiss in the village, a lost thread in a beautifully adorned tapestry called Floral Park.
At the Easter Egg Hunt in Tiny Town, the perennial sounds of children at play mingled with the chill of an early spring morning as parents who gathered about, glowed with happiness under a sun just bright enough to dispel a threatening rain shower.
But even amid the soaring spirits of the forenoon, so many expressed sadness at Jim's absence at the park in which he seemed as much a part of as the landscape itself.
His devotion to his family, his faith and his community never wavered nor slumbered and having left us for a better world, we feel blessed that he made the world we know, in the village he loved, a better place.