Written by Village of Westbury Mayor Peter I. Cavallaro Friday, 29 April 2011 00:00
This past week, the Westbury Village Board of Trustees and I adopted the village’s 2011/12 budget. In putting this budget together, we undertook a disciplined and comprehensive review and evaluation of each and every village department and service, and a critical scrutiny of each and every expenditure line in the budget. We also had to take into account the effects on the village of the continuing budget difficulties on the national and state levels, which have presented us with serious challenges and potential revenue loss.
Fortunately, over the past several years, the board and I took steps, in anticipation of these difficulties, to strengthen the village’s financial footing and, as a result, I believe that Westbury now stands in a better position than many other municipalities to weather the continuing financial challenges that lie ahead. This is exemplified by the fact that this year, due to the steps that we have taken, Westbury received the highest bond ratings in its history. Residents may recall that in 2010, Standard & Poor’s granted the village an initial bond rating of AA- and Moody’s Investors Service upgraded our credit rating to Aa2.
I am pleased that the 2011/12 budget contains no increase in the tax rate for residential and commercial properties. The board and I felt that in these difficult times, it is necessary for us to do whatever we can to attempt to ameliorate the effects of increased property taxes on our residents. While this is not possible every year, given the past steps that we have taken to reduce our overall expenditures, a zero tax increase budget was possible this year, and the village continues to maintain the lowest tax rate among comparable villages.
Among the most significant negative factors affecting our 2011/12 budget were continued reduction in sales tax, mortgage tax and other revenue sources from their high points of several years ago prior to the economic downturn; state-mandated funding of $35,000 pursuant to GASB 45, a new government accounting requirement, for future retiree pension and employee benefit obligations; required expenditure of $175,000 to satisfy pending tax certiorari challenges; state-mandated increase by $89,721 (31 percent) over last year’s budget in village contributions to the NYS retirement system for current and past employees; and an increase in the contractual union wage rate under the village’s current collective bargaining agreement.
The Village Board and I want to assure our residents that we have taken responsible, concrete and significant steps to reduce expenses, eliminate inefficient processes, consolidate services, reorient work flow and assignments, reorganize functions, and have taken other steps necessary to deliver services in the most cost effective and efficient manner possible. In particular, to counteract the foregoing adverse factors, this year’s budget reflects the following important steps we have taken:
• We continue to hold the line on discretionary spending. While overall budgeted expenses are increased in the 2011/12 budget (due primarily to state-mandated cost increases), the 2011/12 budget reflects a 3.5 percent overall reduction ($255,305) in budgeted expenses from the 2008/09 budget, thus creating a much lower expense base than the Village had three years ago.
• We continue to streamline operations and implement cost reductions, efficiency measures and workflow modifications in all departments.
• We continue to maintain a hiring freeze, and the number of budgeted positions is held at the same level as last year (which is four positions less than in 2008/09).
• Projected increase in revenue from fines and penalties for various building and other code violations.
One final point on the budget: two years ago, at the inception of the financial crisis, the village board and I voted to temporarily reduce the modest stipends we receive to serve in village government. This year, I have recommended that each Trustee’s stipend be returned to its pre-financial crisis amount (a $1,000 increase to each trustee), and that the mayor’s stipend be increased by $2,000 from last year (a restoration of one-half of the reduction that was made in 2009/10). Each member of the Board of Trustees works very hard on behalf of the village and our residents, and I believe it is appropriate that their full stipends be restored at this time. I am hopeful that our residents agree.
While we were able to deliver a zero tax increase budget this year, the financial challenges that loom on the horizon for all municipal governments, including Westbury, remain. For example, there is a growing need for additional costly infrastructure improvements (e.g., roadwork, etc.) in the coming years, with fewer outside resources available to help us pay for them. The village board and I will be looking to engage our residents in a conversation over the next year or so as to how we as a village can best meet these challenges.
We believe that the 2011/12 budget is a fair, reasonable, conservative and prudent fiscal plan for the village for the coming year. The board of trustees and I continue to actively work to provide village services in the most economical manner possible, and to do whatever we can to relieve the real property tax burden. As always, I look forward to comments and suggestions from our residents.