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Yorktown Board Adopts Preliminary 2013 Budget

Preliminary spending plan, sporting an array of tax rates, still faces a Dec. 5 public hearing.

Depending on how you look at it, Yorktown’s preliminary 2013 budget, adopted last week, either raises or lowers a homeowner’s property taxes.

It also increases spending, even as it reduces the overall town tax levy, funds four years’ worth of police pay raises and lifts a three-year freeze on the salaries of department heads and elected officials. Still a work in progress, the $51.5 million preliminary budget will have a public hearing in two weeks, Dec. 5.

Supervisor Michael Grace presented his fiscal vision for next year, called the tentative 2013 budget, to the town board in a 5 p.m. work session. The document that emerged reflected compromises and concessions hammered out over more than two hours of contentious, sometimes heated review.

The basic town tax rate, funding such essential services as police, roads and library, was set to rise to 7.72 percent going into the review; instead, it came out pared to a 4.18 percent hike, despite a small rise in spending.

That basic rate supports only the “big three” of Yorktown’s budgetary compartments: the general, highway and library funds. A welter of special-use districts, financing such things as parks and open-space acquisition, directly affect the size of a homeowner’s tax bill.  

As a result, Grace said, despite the hike in their basic rate, most Yorktown homeowners will see their 2013 property tax rate go down, not up. The town garbage-pickup district, for example, serves all Yorktown homes, though not businesses. It realized a one-time $800,000 savings by switching carters last month, which will cut every household’s refuse-collection bill by 13.4 percent.

Leveraging other changes, up and down, in the town utilities’ tax bite, Grace said, a homeowner receiving water and sewer service would see an overall 2.5 percent cut in the rate next year. Even residents outside the water/sewer-district boundaries would enjoy a tax-rate reduction, albeit less than quarter of a point.

Yorktown’s 28 special-use districts, while clearly providing some relief in the budget process, also figured in early controversy as the board took up Grace’s proposed 2013 spending plan.

Historically, each use district had been asked to chip in a small percentage of its total budget to defray the expense of providing administrative, staffing and other support. For years, that contribution had been fixed, with little more than a shrug, at 5 percent. Grace contends that ignored the reality of ever-growing costs. He proposed an increase to 7 percent, sparking a showdown with Councilman Nick Bianco, who called the hike “grand larceny in the first degree,” among other crimes.

Grace, the first-term supervisor, told Bianco, a board member since 1996, “You’ve been charging the [specialized-use] districts too little for too long.”  

But Bianco, insisting that “we’re taking too much money from the special districts,” refused to drop his opposition to Grace’s 7 percent figure. In a protracted debate marked by repeated interruptions and raised voices, the men dug in and determinedly defended their positions.

Councilman David Paganelli reviewed the budget’s math realities, then asked Bianco whether he would “take 6 percent to cover [the districts’] expenses.”

The math realities, underscoring Grace’s need to uncover additional revenue, included finding a half-million dollars to bankroll a five-year contract the board signed in May with the town’s Police Benevolent Association (PBA). Resolving negotiations that had been deadlocked since 2009, the new agreement required the town to finance four years worth of salary hikes in a single year.   

In addition, Grace wanted to boost the salaries of department heads and elected officials, frozen since 2008. He found himself at loggerheads not only with Bianco but also Councilman Vishnu Patel, the board’s lone Democrat.

“If you want to make more money,” Patel advised his fellow board members, “go to work on Wall Street.”

Grace, who said there is a “big disparity in department-head compensation,” argued that Yorktown needed a more-competitive pay scale to maintain its vitality.

“For the long-term stability of the town, you have to properly compensate department heads and elected officials,” he said.

In the end, Grace limited raises for public officials to those of elected officeholders who cannot vote their own raises: Town Justices Salvatore A. Lagonia and Gary J. Raniolo, to $30,864, and Town Clerk Alice Roker, to $92,000.

Bianco, acknowledging he lacked the votes to block the raises, dropped his opposition. Then, after huddling privately with Grace, he announced, “I’m going to accept the 6 percent [special-use-district assessment] in the spirit of compromise.”

He later made the motion to adopt Grace’s modified spending plan as the town’s preliminary budget, subject to revisions after the Dec. 5 public hearing. The board voted, 4-1, to adopt, with Democrat Patel maintaining his opposition. 

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Susan Siegel November 26, 2012 at 05:48 PM
The 2013 preliminary budget may look like good news because it shows a decrease in the total tax bill -- for some, but not all –homeowners. It all depends on which sewer district you’re in. But the budget is bad news if you plan to be a Yorktown taxpayer next year. That’s because neither the Supervisor’s Tentative Budget or the Preliminary Budget adopted last week by the Town Board make any significant attempt to reduce ongoing expenditures. And reducing expenditures is the way to hold the line on taxes. The 2013 budget increases basic town expenses by $1.2 million. And those expenses, like additional staff, will be even more expensive in 2014. But instead of looking at how those on going expenses could be reduced, the budget covers over the $1.2 million increase in expenses with overly optimistic one-shot revenue projections and one-shot savings that won’t be available in 2014. And, as the Patch reporter wrote, the budget commits “grand larceny in the first degree” by charging taxpayers in the water, sewer and refuse special districts an additional $183,000 over and above the $1.2 million they already pay into the general fund. More background information about the budget, including the list of 2013 salary increases, is available at yorktownbettergovernment.org.
Evan Bray November 26, 2012 at 10:04 PM
I fancy myself pretty smart and have a degree from a college that's harder to get into than the Ivies. That said, I am not a finance guy and have no idea how the following quote from the article is fiscally possible: "It also increases spending, even as it reduces the overall town tax levy, funds four years’ worth of police pay raises and lifts a three-year freeze on the salaries of department heads and elected officials." Only a magic wand can add payroll, decrease taxes and add services. Something's fishy. I think the town should be looking to pare employees and reign in benefits. Remember the time that one department head accumulated 180+ vacation days and we got stick with a 75K bill when the board effectively fired her? Common sense, free market practices would fix that. Did we reduce staff and ask for concessions on pensions and benefits from 2008 to now? I doubt it. Everyone bitches about Westchester taxes but there's not a serious politician that is willing to take these steps that are andolutely required to right the fiscal ship, long term. It's hard to cut staff and ask for concessions. Until the people demand it and politicians walk the walk, then I insist that we all just stop moaning about tax raises. Relatively speaking, we are working class, but it's Westchester working class. I say suck it up or put someone in office who will work for real change and not use fuzzy math in their budgets.
Evan Bray November 26, 2012 at 10:06 PM
I may not understand this correctly, but no one can explain to me why people without sewers will see a larger tax bill than their sewered counterparts. It makes no sense that people receiving an additional service (sewer) would catch a break while septic folks foot the bill. Makes. No. Sense.
Susan Siegel November 27, 2012 at 12:11 AM
The tax difference isn't sewers -- its water. The Water District tax is going down 33.08% because its taking $925,000 from its fund balance. (About 2/3 of Yorktown households are in the Water District.) For the typical homeowner with a $10,000 assessed value, this translates into a $65.66 reduction in the total tax bill -- and offsets the $58.09 increase in the ADL or town tax. The homeowner also benefits from a one time $59.23 reduction in the refuse tax. And there's a $.09 increase in the emergency medical services fund.. I'll respond to your comments about staff costs and benefits in a separate posting.
Evan Bray November 27, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Thanks for the clarification. A flat tax, for me, has always been a sexy idea--politically. But at this level, the local level, I don't see how that could ever work. OK, so I'm clear. It was written that "Grace said, a homeowner receiving water and sewer service would see an overall 2.5 percent cut in the rate next year. Even residents outside the water/sewer-district boundaries would enjoy a tax-rate reduction, albeit less than quarter of a point." So more accurately, if one is receiving water service, then their bill drops 2.5, whereas the well water people only get a .25 decrease? The sewers don't factor in to the equation.
Evan Bray November 27, 2012 at 12:42 AM
And what explains the water/well discrepancy in the tax rate decrease?
Bob Rohr November 27, 2012 at 01:30 AM
If I am reading this correctly, some of the Tax levy was bought down using fund balance. Essentially they buy down the Tax rate. When it comes to salaries, you must demand performance for the money you pay. You can maybe find a Bozo that will work for $20K less and cost you $100K in bad decisions due ti lack of experience or incompetence, No savings there.
Evan Bray November 27, 2012 at 01:53 AM
Agreed. You get what you pay for. I think that in the public sector though, it's a politically difficult move to cut staff. Do you know what the staffing levels were in Yorktown pre-October 2008 v. today? I'd bet--if anything--we've added employees whereas most private companies were forced to do more with less, as they say (read: people actually lost their jobs). I'm just guessing though and could be totally wrong. So is the fund balance is just a reserve of cash that that town is drawing on to offset the increase in the tax levy? Will the reserves be restored through town revenue in 2013 or will the fund(s?) balances be lower next year?
Bob Rohr November 27, 2012 at 02:17 AM
Usually it is like taking money out of the Bank to fix your driveway. It can replenish over time.The School District did this also. Unless you are expecting a windfall, it is not something you can do every year. You an also have a excess fund balance, Schools are capped at 2%, so you return the excess to the Taxpayers.Some years the Teachers Retirement System had a good year so your liability is lower. I am not a fan of doing it a lot, but we did do it at the YCSD to basically ease the strain and spread it out over several years. I always felt that you need a good fund balance for emergencies and not whack the Taxpayer for an unforeseen events. If you look at the size of this Town the budget seems fairly reasonable. Towns 1/4 this size have budgets much larger than 25% of ours.
Evan Bray November 27, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Thanks for the info, Bob; you have a good working knowledge of these budget issues. Seems a bit disingenuous to be touting this as a tax decease though. Isn't it more like a couple one-offs (Costco fees, new garbage contract, dipping into fund cash reserves) that are artificially lowering the levy? Unless we get a new garbage hauler next year at a 800K savings, Sam's club moves into our big-box-centered community (I'm looking at you, State Land Corp--just need that pesky rezone), and keep depleting fund reserves--we're headed for a substantial increase in the levy next year. Right? Is it not just taking credit for a few items that won't be there next year and leaves fund balances lower? (read: kicking can down road) I think there has to be some fat in the town payroll, but that's a political 3rd rail. What kind of benefits and pensions do we offer. We should make sure they are in line with their private counterparts? I don't get a match on my 401(k) and can't roll over vacation time. I pay a Tom of money weekly to my health insurance coverage. What kind of plan does YT offer? How much, if any, do employees kick in?
Francis T McVetty November 27, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Evan, a point that we BOTH agree on. It does NOT make sense. The "unsewered 1000" will NEVER get sewers, yet all those many years we had to pay into the sewer district. For what, the promise of getting them?
Anne Iacobuzio November 29, 2012 at 12:44 PM
"As a result, Grace said, despite the hike in their basic rate, most Yorktown homeowners will see their 2013 property tax rate go down, not up." How do you find out if your taxes will go up or down?
Anne Iacobuzio November 29, 2012 at 12:51 PM
What are Yorktown’s 28 special-use districts?
Susan Siegel November 29, 2012 at 03:30 PM
The 28 special districts (or funds) are listed in the front of the budget book. To find out which districts you’re part of, check your April tax bill. If you pay your taxes through the bank, you can get a free copy of your tax bill from the Tax Receiver’s office in Town Hall. For an explanation of the different districts and how to calculate your individual tax bill, visit yorktownbettergovernment.org.

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