The Budget Sausage Making Process
Some people believe that taxpayers should be kept in the dark about the budget sausage making process. I disagree. I believe taxpayers should understand the process, warts and all. More importantly, I believe taxpayers should know how the 2013 budget will impact their 2014 tax bill. It’s called being open, transparent -- and honest.
The good news, for 2013, is that when the basic town tax is combined with special district taxes, some taxpayers will see their total town tax bill go down; others will see an increase. It all depends on which special districts you’re in.
The bad news is what the 2013 budget means for your 2014 taxes.
There are two ways to hold the line on taxes: cut expenditures or increase revenue. Revenue can be increased either by finding new sources of revenue or simply inflating existing revenue projections.
The 2013 general fund budget includes an additional $1.4 million for increased salaries and benefits – and this expense will increase again next year because of existing labor contracts and likely increases in health benefits and pension payments, two expenses over which the Town has no control -- except to the extent that these costs are determined by the number of employees.
But at a time when other towns are holding the line on creating new positions, not filling vacant positions or, as a last resort, laying off staff in order to hold the line of tax increases, Yorktown’s Preliminary Budget has a net increase in staff -- over and above staff increases already approved this year.
The only significant staff reduction in the 2013 budget is the elimination of one position in the Finance Department and that’s based on the assumption that the current deputy comptroller will be appointed comptroller and that the vacancy created by the resignation of the previous comptroller will not be backfilled. Of course, that savings assumes that the Town will no longer need the services of the $9,000/month financial advisor the Board hired in October to assist the deputy comptroller. (The budget also includes $35,000 for a retired assessor to assist the current assessor.)
Instead of looking at how to reduce costs, the 2013 budget inflates revenue projections, uses overly optimistic one-shot revenue projections and one-shot savings, and large fund balance transfers to offset increased expenditures. But what happens in 2014 when there may not be new one-shot revenues or savings to offset the increase in the Town’s employee costs and other expenses?
The 2013 budget also relies on additional revenue from the water, sewer and refuse special districts to cover expenses, in effect, robbing Peter, the special districts, to pay Paul, the general fund.
If you plan to be a Yorktown taxpayer in 2014, you may want to attend the public hearing on the budget on December 5. It’s your money the Town Board is spending.
For more information about the budget, visit yorktownbettergovernment.org
The following comments represent my personal view and are separate and distinct from my unbiased Patch blog postings of meeting summaries for Citizens for an Informed Yorktown, ciyinfo.org.