In light of these uncertain economic times, Garden City department heads found themselves deferring line items in order to streamline their overall budget requests.
The village's five-year capital plan has been in place for the past 28 years and is used as a road mark to help identify essential projects and equipment acquisitions. Fiscal hurdles, however, have made current budget talks challenging.
"These uncertain times are creating many, many hurdles and our capital program will have to be modified," Village Administrator Robert Schoelle said. "...A number of these projects and equipment acquisitions will have to be deferred into future years ... It's a very painful process and will affect many, many areas."
Over the years, capital plans have represented anywhere from 10 percent to 17 percent of the village's total budget. This plan, if enacted without changes, would represent 13 percent.
When considering five-year capital plans, Village Auditor Jim Olivo said it's important to keep in mind that a capital plan is not just what the village buys this year but what it's paying off in the future. "We've done a lot of capital work in the past 10 years," Olivo noted.
To put things into perspective, last year's capital plan represented just 5.5 percent, while debt service totaled 3.4 percent, for a total of 8.8 percent. Olivo considered 2008-2009 a "light year."
The village's debt has been out since 1992. Garden City has already paid several items off, including the Franklin Avenue streetscape undertaken in 1999. The St. Paul's School acquisition is a major village expenditure that will be paid off in 2013.
Much of the village's debt, however, is the result of sewer projects, which date back to 1992 and are close to being paid off. When these items are paid in full, $400,000 could be put back into the budget come 2013.
Olivo admits the village is facing some really tough times. Typically a "pay-as-you-go" community, he said Garden City has borrowed money during recent years, namely for the redevelopment of St. Paul's park back in 2006, land acquisitions on Tenth and Eleventh streets for parking, last year's library renovations and the mini golf course and platform tennis courts at Community Park.
Future debt considerations include the continuation of the Franklin Avenue streetscape project heading north, at a cost of $900,000, and the recently approved improvements to village hall, namely the installation of an ADA-compliant elevator, which will be paid off by 2024.
Construction should begin within the next few months at village hall and includes an addition to the front of the building, required to accommodate the elevator. Olivo noted this debt has not yet been issued. "We don't know what rate we'll be paying on it and in this market, we're not sure." Market rates are currently hovering around 3 percent or just under 3 percent.
Finance Chair and Deputy Mayor John Mauk echoed Olivo's remarks. "We're facing, along with everybody else in virtually every level of government I know of, some severe financial constraints and problems," he said. "We're trying to do what we can to put together a budget for the next fiscal year that is going to continue to provide levels of services we think residents expect but also do so at a level that is not going to adversely affect taxpayers."
In anticipation of the economic troubles, staff was asked to look at three different scenarios: (1) a normal budget, which would have all the standard capital increases and other operating expenses normally expected; (2) a flat budget, which would not include any increases or any additional expenditures over what was spent during this fiscal year; and (3) a budget with a 10 percent reduction in services.
Each scenario, however, required a tax increase. "Certainly the 10 percent reduction comes out to be about 2 percent. But to achieve that we're talking about eliminating policemen, eliminating firefighters, eliminating some of what we think are essential services," Deputy Mayor Mauk said. "We don't expect that's something we're going to be going forward with."
Instead, the overall objective here: Achieve an acceptable balance. Provide an acceptable level of service to residents at a reasonable tax increase. Village taxes represent approximately 30 percent of a resident's overall tax bill. For the average Garden City household, a 1 percent tax increase equates to a $50 increase while a 10 percent tax increase equates to a $500 increase. "Although that's not significant, I think that it could help in translating percentages," Deputy Mayor Mauk explained.
Schoelle assured nothing is cast in stone and all recommendations will be discussed with the board of trustees during budget study sessions slated for Thursday, Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Feb. 28 at 8:30 a.m. and at any necessary future meetings. "The executive staff is passionate yet realistic," Schoelle said, adding that it's important to note that items can be deferred, but not lost.
The technology budget is calling for $133,000 for 2009-2010, $5,000 less than that of the prior year. With extensive technology used at Garden City Village Hall and within the Garden City Police Department, the budget is a $138,000 "rolling account," with that amount requested for 2010-2011, 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. The village's technology network includes the Village Yard, Water Works, Recreation and Village Hall.
Olivo noted the village has already acquired hand-held devices currently being used in the Building Department and future considerations include placing GPS location technologies in all village vehicles to monitor their whereabouts at all times. "Many of the jurisdictions around us have found cost savings in doing that particularly the Town of Babylon," he said.
Captain Gil Frank presented three possible fire department budgets, recommending Alternate #2, which asks for $17,500 for 2009-2010 and defers $305,000 to future years. Though a natural gas fuel generator has been proposed for Station 3, located at 27 St. James Street North, at an estimated cost of $55,000, Captain Frank deferred this request to 2011-2012. The total money request for 2009-2010, $17,500, will go toward three apparatus doors at Station #2, located at 148 Stewart Avenue. This new request will be in addition to $17,500 already funded in the 2008-2009 capital projects plan.
Garden City Police Commissioner Ernest Cipullo's proposed budget totals $290,826 for 2009-2010 and includes $100,000 for communications technology. This would afford police officers the ability to communicate directly with Nassau County police and all other village departments. "We can't talk car to car with the Nassau County Police Department," Cipullo said, citing numerous incidents, particularly on Old Country Road, in which both police departments responded to calls but could not communicate. The Nassau County interoperability program is currently under way and will be online in 2010-2011; Garden City police requested these monies in last year's budget but it had to be deferred.
Cipullo said the department is "biting the bullet" on any vehicle acquisitions but noted that these purchases will have to be incorporated into the capital plan's remaining four years.
Garden City Library Director Margaret Cincotta noted that a choice has been made to defer the children's section bathroom conversion. Further, donations enabled library officials to offset the $20,000 request to replace the lower level galley, returning $18,000 to the village. The library is also requesting a $20,000 expenditure to update the building's telephone system.
Public Works Director Robert Mangan did his best to eliminate any "fluff" from the department's budget. "To cut costs, we'll try to defer all equipment, although we'd really like the sweeper," Mangan said, referring to a sweeper needed to replace one that's been out of service for nine months already. A DPW employee, who many call "McGuyver," was actually able to fabricate a part to get the old sweeper up and running again. Although he would really like to replace that sweeper with a new one, Mangan acknowledged that there are more than 100 pieces of equipment at the Village Yard. "We'll get by some how," he said.
He noted that less than 20 percent of the village's sewer system is lined, a good percentage considering how old the system is. Five or six roads are scheduled for repaving, taking a big hit from this winter's weather. Parking Fields 7N and 12 are also in pretty bad shape but will likely not see improvements until future years.
Pavers on Franklin Avenue, a continuation of the streetscape project, won't likely be seen for another year or so. Sidewalk repairs have been scaled back; so has the village's tree planting budget. Usually $100,000, it's been cut back to $30,000. Resident tree requests will likely be deferred to future years. "Everyone has to take a hit," Mangan said.
Mangan noted that the repainting of the village's elevated storage tank will be deferred for several years. The project is quite costly, ranging between $2.5 million to $3 million to undertake. Further, Mangan noted that a $275,000 SCADA upgrade, or a computer commands upgrade, at all of Garden City's water well sites, will likely be deferred as well.
Kevin Ocker, chair of the Board of Commissioners of Cultural and Recreational Affairs, said a $30,000 Community Park fields and roller rink study would be beneficial. The Recreation Commission has recognized some fields in need of upgrade. In particular, Field #4, the high school's baseball field, which is in use between March and October and experiencing grading and settling problems, and Field #2 at Community Park, which lacks any kind of drainage system but is heavily used. Ocker noted that the recreation department spends an average $16,000 a year maintaining the infield of Field #2 during the season. The entire field costs more than $30,000 to maintain. A $125,000 line item calls for the installation of synthetic turf, which requires little maintenance.
Relocating the roller rink is also a possibility. Engaging a professional park planner to study the idea could provide a "very firm estimate."
A small expansion project at the Golf Club Lane senior center is also a possibility. Ocker noted that residents who frequent the center have made it clear they wish to stay there but could use more space. Currently, the existing building is 23,000 square feet. "They really could use double the space they have now," Ocker said. The $25,000 expenditure, however, was removed from the department's budget because Ocker said a local college student has agreed to design the proposed expansion.