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Village Files Revised Budget

Superstorm Sandy wreaks havoc on surplus

The Garden City board of trustees and department heads continue to work diligently to pare down the 2013-2014 budget. “The crux of the problem,” said village auditor James E. Olivo at a budget review session on March 20, is the diminished surplus available for appropriation.

The $759,045 surplus available for appropriation this year compares with $2,964,244 appropriated for the 2012-2013 budget. Superstorm Sandy-related expenses that the village incurred totaled $694,057—total Sandy operations were $5,552,459; FEMA reimbursements totaled $4,858,402—wiping out a big chunk of the surplus.

The village started this year with an unappropriated surplus of $1.6 million, of which roughly $1.3 has to be allocated to commitments, according to Olivo. “That is where our surplus position is. It’s not great news. It is what it is,” Olivo said.

Discussion ensued among board members as to how to handle Sandy expenses. “We have an extraordinary item,” said trustee Nicholas P. Episcopia. “I think if the population is billed for this extraordinary item as a surcharge or whatever you care to call it, I think people would be more understanding of the fact that this money we simply cannot get back from FEMA. It’s not something that … is not going to happen on a repeated basis. It’s not an ordinary expense. That’s the theory.”

Trustee Dennis C. Donnelly questioned whether Sandy expenses have to fall within the state-mandated 2 percent tax cap. “If it’s a benefit assessment, it becomes part of the tax cap,” Olivo said, “but we do not know if there has been a movement to have any expenses of the storm exempted from the cap.”

Olivo presented two revised budgets, one with firefighter layoffs, one without. The budget reflecting the layoffs was to be filed with the village clerk on March 21, according to finance chair and trustee Andrew J. Cavanaugh. That budget includes $55,712,266 in budget appropriations, an implied tax rate of $46.57, an 8.71 percent tax increase and a 1.97 percent increase in spending for the year.

That 8.71 percent is down from 22.93 percent, the original departmental budget requested for 2013-2014. Olivo cited big-ticket items like a $1 million cut in judgments and claims, which dropped from $2.5 million to $1.5 million. He also gave a nod toward capital projects.

“We recognized right up front that the first budget was way too much tax rate at one time. We then went through the capital projects and reduced and deferred some. We also have slated some that are still on the board for financing with a bond issue, so that’s one of the initial cuts. The other item that was changed on a somewhat arbitrary manner was the insurance transfer for liability of $300,000,” Olivo said.

Vacant positions that could be eliminated are also on the block, most notably recreation, DPW and the police department, according to Olivo. “We then were challenged by trustee Cavanaugh who said try to get 3 percent from each department,” he added.

Toward that end, Kevin Ocker, chair of the board of cultural and recreational affairs, suggested the elimination of seasonal staff in neighborhood parks from June through September in the afternoons, saying it would generate a savings of about $65,000. “Our intent, if this is adopted, is to adopt a vigorous volunteer program so that there will be a presence of adults in the parks,” he said. He also suggested foregoing hiring seasonal laborers for maintenance work, which would eliminate 13 positions between parks (five) and recreation (eight), saving $58,000.

The notion of eliminating paid park staff was unanimously vetoed. “I’m not in favor of not having people in the parks,” Donnelly said, to which Ocker replied, “Neither am I,” reiterating the idea of volunteers. Donnelly brought up liability as a big concern, saying one lawsuit could eat up any potential savings of eliminating park personnel. The board voted to put paid park staff back into the budget.

The budget filed on March 21 becomes the tentative budget, with the final budget scheduled for public hearing on April 1. Public hearings must be concluded by April 15, according to Cavanaugh, and the last day for the new board to adopt a budget is April 30. However, “I would anticipate in asking this board to be in a position to act definitively to move forward with this budget at our organizational meeting on April 1,” he said.