The Board of Trustees completed the budget review process on Tuesday night and approved a budget, with a concurrent tax rate for the next fiscal year (June 2013 through May 2014) that represents a 2.34% increase over last year. This translates into an additional $94.72 in taxes annually for the typical homeowner (assuming an average house assessment of $16,900).
This is the second budget passed in compliance with the New York State tax levy cap. The tax levy is the overall increase in revenues (property taxes, sales taxes, state aid and otherwise), necessary to meet increased costs. While the State’s tax levy cap is ostensibly set at 2%, the state makes exceptions when pension increases are substantially above 2% (they were) and if a village raised its levy substantially less than 2% in the last budget cycle (we did). Theoretically, under State law, we were permitted to raise the levy as high as 3.8% - our tax levy increase, rather, was 2.29%. We will point with some pride in producing the lowest tax increase of any Rivertown village that did not raid their fund balance to bring down their rate.
As a point of reference, your village tax (on average now a little over $4,100) is approximately 21 % of the total property tax bill that you pay as a resident of Hastings-on-Hudson. School taxes comprise 66%, County taxes 11 % and Greenburgh town taxes are about 2%. Each of these four tax entities are overseen separately by different boards. Our responsibility as the Board of Trustees of the Village is to oversee the operations and services that are provided by the Village, and the resulting tax rate based on the cost of delivering those services. Your village taxes pay for Police, Fire and Ambulance, Department of Public Works (garbage, recycle, snow removal, storm clean-up, etc. and the maintenance of over 28 miles of roads)(though some, like Farragut and Broadway, are maintained by other entities), Park
Maintenance, Recreation Programs (Seniors and Youth, Pool), Building Department (permits and zoning codes), the Village Court, Village Hall Administration and the Library.
We continue to improve our financial position. Our reserve fund, now at $748,240, is likely to grow to around $900,000 by the close of this fiscal year, ahead of our projections. This is well on the way to our target of $1,300,000 based on a standard recommended amount. This remains a major accomplishment given the continuing troubled fiscal environment.
Like the last few budgets, this one was again created in an environment of depressed revenues, with a number of our larger expenses escalating out of our control. The total budget, at $13,609,361, increased $243,117 over the previous year. Just three items consumed all of the tax increase we just passed:
Insurance (increase of $139,900): Health and other insurance costs rose over 8% this year.
Pension Costs (increase of $60,867): Certain pension costs increased by a little more than 9%, considerably less than last year’s 22.1 %, but still more than the cap provides.
Fire Hydrant Rental (increase of $45,000): The water company own them and we, believe it or not, “rent” them and now will pay nearly a quarter of a million dollars a year for this privilege after an eye-watering increase of 24%.
The actual department budgets were generally stable: the police went up a bit, the rest went down a bit. We’ve set aside a contingency fund this year of $220,000, the same as last year. We also set aside some money for Comprehensive Plan implementation, LED bulb replacement and other small initiatives.
These remain tough times: the downward pressure of the tax cap meets the upward pressure of mandated costs increasing faster than 2%. The result is continuing pressure on our department staff to cut costs and try to maintain services despite decreased funding. Our biggest challenge will remain staying within budget constraints in a world of mandates imposed from elsewhere. As we have pared staff back as far as we can without sacrificing services, we need to get ever more creative to manage this balancing act. That will involve sharing services with other communities as well as other ways to stretch our dollar while providing the level of service residents expect.
We are grateful to Village Manager Fran Frobel and Deputy Treasurer Rafael Zaratzian for their hard work during the budgeting cycle. Trustee Armacost, as the Board lead on this issue, continues to do heavy lifting. Finally, thanks go to all the department heads and staff who are engaged in this process and manage to exercise care in spending public funds with the trust endowed them while continuing to provide increasing services to the Village.