Written by Melissa Argueta Friday, 16 April 2010 00:00
During a public hearing and organizational meeting held on April 5, the Garden City Board of Trustees adopted the 2010-11 budget, resulting in an approximate tax increase of $121 to the average assessed single family homeowner. The board of trustees voted 5 to 2 in favor of the budget, the collection of the taxes and the fixing of the 2010 tax rate.
The mayor stated that the total budget is $53,641,341, an increase of $351,711 (0.66 percent) from the 2009-2010 budget. He stated that applying the surplus funds and revenues, it requires a tax rate of $41.40 to balance the budget, an increase of 2.23 percent from 2009-2010. “This results in an increase in tax of approximately $121 to the average assessed single family home,” the mayor said.
The mayor also spoke to the challenges that the village board was faced with this year. “From the beginning of the budget process, the board of trustees was faced with many difficult choices as to how best balance the service expectations of the residents with the difficulty presented by the current economy,” he stated.
After weeks of work sessions, the mayor explained that preparation of the budget is a “major responsibility that claims long hours of staff’s time and full time attention of the department heads and village administrator during several months of the year,” he said. He also thanked former trustee John Mauk, as well as the Citizen’s Budget Advisory Committee for the “extraordinary number of hours that they expended in the process for their highly valued imput,” he said.
The mayor noted that the board was aware that the economic climate caused a significant revenue shortfall during 2009-10, particularly in interest in investments and state aid from mortgage taxes. “These two sources were short $574,359. Other revenue performance made up some of this shortage, to where the total revenue shortfall was only $7,702,” the mayor said.
He also explained that expenses are estimated to produce an addition to the surplus of $1,507,593. “For the second year, the village board adjusted a longstanding policy of holding 2 percent in reserve to hold only 1 percent. Accordingly, $2,245,261 was available from surplus to offset the needed tax increase,” the mayor said.
During the past few years, the mayor said that department heads have turned back a surplus from their budget appropriations to reduce the tax rate for the succeeding year. In 2009, the village administrator imposed a village-wide job freeze, which in combination with attrition of employees through retirements produced savings. The village-wide job freeze will remain in effect for 2010-11.
It is anticipated in the budget that revenues will be $53,006 higher than 2009-2010. This is due primarily to expected increases from court fines that are anticipated to offset the expected mortgage reductions, as well as interest earnings.
Included in the budget was the annual appropriation for the five-year capital plan. As a result of extensive meetings between staff and the board, purchases of equipment and projects were prioritized. The Citizens Budget Advisory Committee recommended that the village take advantage of the current interest climate and four projects were approved for a bond financing. The mayor explained that this will enable the village to resurface parking areas in the central business area and village Community Park and Pool, resurface roadways and replace pavers in the crosswalks on Franklin Avenue.
According to the mayor, the operating budget contains the annual pay down of bonds and notes. He stated that the expense in this year’s budget for debt service is $1,792,630 due to payment requirements on outstanding bonds. In addition, major Water Fund projects include water tank painting and other required environmental improvements. The mayor also explained that extensive work will be needed on the village swimming pool, which is expected to be funded through a bond issue.
The mayor also welcomed questions and comments from the public. Garden City resident Ron Tadross, who was a write-in candidate in this year’s village election, was the only resident to ask a question. He inquired if there was a bond plan set in place at the beginning of the budget process. The mayor responded that a plan was in the original discussion because it would enable the board to improve the original infrastructure of the village without having a major increase.
Tadross went on to say, “So when you reduce the tax rate, you took items out of the budget and now we’re going to bond those items?” The mayor responded that “in many years that I’ve been around, it was always a pay-as-you-go budget scenario, where we need to fix streets, we need to fix roads, we need to fix sewers, we put it in the tax rate and we did it and now we can’t do that,” the mayor stated. Tadross asked what the planned bond dollar amounts were.
According to Jim Olivo, the “ball park amount” of this year’s bond is approximately $3.7 million, consisting of approximately $2 million for parking areas in the central business district; $1 million for the swimming pool parking lot in Community Park; and $325,000 for a road to be included that is normally funded through the capital plan and the crosswalks on Franklin Avenue that need to be repaired.
The mayor explained “The board got to a point where we knew we could not continue to defer…that’s probably the one thing we’ve gotten concerns from residents about. They don’t like how the village is beginning to look a little tattered at the edges.”
Tadross agreed that roads should be repaired, but said it seems like the frequency of the bonds are getting a lot closer than anyone would have forecast a year or two ago. He also asked when the village would stop taking on new debt. Tadross said, “I can almost guarantee you that the frequency will get closer and the bonds will get bigger” because of the condition of roads. He also stated that the village paved 15 roads in 2000, all through the operating budget. “Last year, we paved three. This year, we are going to pave none,” Tadross said.
The mayor responded, “If you haven’t noticed, and I’m sure you have, things have changed in the last couple of years and we have to do things differently than we did in the past,” he said.
The mayor concluded the organizational meeting formally thanking the board of trustees, department heads, as well as the Citizens Budget Review Committee, an independent body of volunteer residents, for their efforts in the budget review process. The mayor explained that while the process is not perfect, he has committed to improve it in the coming year, based on recommendations from the Citizens Budget Review Committee.
Despite these challenges, the mayor expressed his hopes for his second term. “Garden City is a village of 21,000 residents. We have a commercial district that is going through some tough times,” he said. “However, we continue to be a village that entices major financial institutions to set up regional offices and non-residents to comment what a beautiful place Garden City is and I wish I could live here. Our five square miles is a very special place for many reasons.
“I look forward to an exciting year as mayor and confronting some of these challenges. As I stated when I took office last year, I hope that we could move away from the tension and personal attacks that were emanating from the board and some residents. From comments that I have received, I think we have made real progress in that regard,” he said, adding “I thank the board and the residents for understanding that we are all volunteers and residents, and we are working diligently to do what is right and what is best for Garden City.”