Friday, 03 May 2013 00:00
As taxpayers know, the years since the economic downturn that began in 2008-09 and continues today, a myriad of problems have been presented that all municipalities have had to deal with. As custodians of your tax dollars, the Garden City Board of Trustees (BOT) sincerely strives to ensure that your money is spent in the most efficient way possible, while providing the services and quality of life our residents and business community have come to expect.
For the past five years, the BOT has kept the average village budget increase to less than 1 percent. In line with this conservative budgeting, the average tax increase over the past five years was 3.03 percent, and for the last two, 1.71 percent and 1.74 percent respectively. We have accomplished this by working very hard to increase both efficiency and revenues wherever possible. We were aided in this task by our Citizens Budget Review & Advisory Committee, our village staff and interested residents from our POAs. As the chart reflects our spending is less today than it was five years ago. Our village staff is cognizant of our commitment to efficiency and knows that certain changes are necessary to achieve our goals.Comparison Of The Last Five Village Budgets
This year, as we began our work on the 2013-14 budget, we were faced with a total of $1,600,000 in mandated increases in contributions to the New York State Pension Fund, Social Security, and our employees’ health and dental plans. Additionally, there is a 3.5 percent increase in police annual pay that was awarded in a recent arbitrator’s decision, plus a reserve for an arbitrator’s award to our paid firefighters that should be forthcoming very soon. These required payments, coupled with approximately $700,000 in non-reimbursed Hurricane Sandy clean up expenses, left the BOT with a very daunting task. Approximately 70 percent of our budget goes to personnel salaries and benefits and the current BOT is committed to controlling this expense.
We approached the problem by increasing revenues, cutting certain capital expenditures, and reducing expenses wherever possible. Since more than 70 percent of our village budget goes to salaries and benefits, we had no choice but to make the difficult decision to reduce staffing. These reductions in the number of paid firefighters, as well as recreation, public works and administrative staff are unprecedented in Garden City’s history. These actions, coupled with a reduction in the library contribution, overtime and other salary/benefit adjustments, resulted in a reduction of approximately $2,345,000 +/- in personnel costs. The BOT sincerely believes these changes will have a minimal effect on our quality of life.
We also reduced the contribution to the Fire Department Apparatus Fund, which marks a change in policy from reserving for new apparatus to bonding the purchases. This decision was made because fire trucks have a useful life of approximately 15 years. We therefore found it prudent to take advantage of the unprecedented low interest rates and finance these purchases. Financing is especially attractive since Garden City has a AAA bond rating. Further we believe that future residents, not just the present taxpayers should bear some of the cost of assets with a long useful life. It should be noted that it is quite common for other villages and fire districts in New York State to regard these purchases as capital items, and to finance them with municipal debt. Like road repair and replacement, these purchases are not everyday operating expenses and it is prudent to finance them.
On the revenue side, we raised our building permit fees, benefited from increased curb repair money from the state, and approved the sale of a small parcel of unused village owned real property. We also transferred expenses that have been historically recorded in the village budget into the appropriate separate budgets for the self-sustaining tennis facility the pool, and the water department. These costs which are now recorded in enterprise funds, which is where these expenses properly belong. These projected revenue increases and expense transfers total $828,062.
The net result of this effort was a total budget of $54,408,356, which is $229,000 less than the 2012–2013 village budget. The tax levy of $46,551,130 represents a tax increase of approximately 3.8 percent over last year’s increase. This is below the New York State tax cap by $325,000. One positive note is that mandated state pension contributions have a lag effect of about three years. This year we suffered from the market declines in 2008–09, but in the future, we will have the benefit of the 2012-13 rises in the equity markets, and the required pension contributions should be lower.
It should be noted that a certain level of services must exist in order to maintain the quality of life residents of Garden City have come to expect. Most importantly, our primary responsibility as a government is to maintain public health and safety. The funding of police, fire and public works services, with an eye towards efficiency and reasonable spending, is our first concern. We believe this difficult budget process has achieved these principal goals.
The Board of Trustees Public Information Committee:
Chairman Nicholas Episcopia