In her weekly column, Bronxville Mayor Mary Marvin laments the outcome of the most recent village budget:
On April 30th, the trustees and I finalized a budget that we all agreed was our most difficult to date. We finalized a budget of $13,966,549 with $5,820,936 offset in non-property tax revenues resulting in $8,145,613 to be paid by property taxpayers in fiscal year 2012-2013.
We began the process with fewer policemen and public works staff on the payroll than we have had in years and 15 percent less administrative staff. As illustration, we now have one secretary for all of village hall.
Our looming fixed costs include our “debt” back to the State of New York which is Bronxville’s largest ever. Pension costs rose from $1,028,649 to $1,194,596 representing a 16% increase in one year. Our pension obligations were just $4,566 in the 1999-2000 budget. Health care costs rose 5.5 percent to $1,783,015 and Workmen’s Compensation costs rose in one year a whopping 18.7 percent to $227,765 despite the fact we received a rebate due to our minimal use of the fund.
At the end of the process, we will send the State of New York a check for $3,205,376 and receive $64,713 back in direct State aid. This is clearly an unsustainable relationship. Beyond the exponential increase in state mandates, expenses at the local level also rose. Fuel costs increased by 42 percent in just two years and our energy bill will jump 10.75 percent in the next budget.
On the revenue side, we could not prudently forecast significant increases in sales tax and mortgage tax revenue as the trends over the past year have been uneven. Additionally, any costs from the county and town that could be increased at the local level such as garbage transfer costs were filtered down to the village budget.
At the end of the process, without buying a new pencil or offering staff raises, the tax burden on our 2,300 taxpaying houses, co-ops, condos and commercial properties was untenable. Faced with this dilemma, our only recourse was to look for additional revenue sources whose costs did not fall completely on the village taxpayer. We reviewed all our revenue lines and reluctantly agreed to put our parking meter costs in line with those of all our neighbors and charge a quarter for fifteen minutes rather than the current quarter for twenty minutes.
We had not adjusted our meter costs for over eight years, not keeping pace with other communities. In our estimation, this adjustment was the best way to balance the heavy burden on our taxpayers while not placing an unfair burden on any one stakeholder keeping the increase in line with neighboring shopping communities.
The additional revenue helped to lower our property tax levy to $8,145,613 from the original estimate of $8,276,957 as well as shore up our fund balance to help maintain our Triple A bond rating. This most favorable rating has proven advantageous for our capital program as we were recently able to borrow funds at a 1.75 percent net interest rate. As a result, you will see a very robust program of improvements to our long term assets such as road paving and curbing, tree planting, computerization of village paper records and an aggressive program to clean and rehabilitate the village sewer system.
At the end of our thoughtful and sometimes tortured process, our budget work resulted with $166 above the State promulgated tax cap. We could have come in under the cap by decreasing our budget for road repaving for example, but we believed we had analyzed every budget line and made the best possible decisions for Bronxville residents.
The Trustees and I believe the small increase above the tax cap not only demonstrates prudent control over local finances but allows us to respect and champion the concept of local sovereignty versus State control of local issues. We believe the final budget best serves the needs of the residents of Bronxville although perhaps not the political ambitions of the career politicians in Albany.
It still boggles the mind that the same folks due to their lack of courage and inaction send us a bill from Albany equating to a 4 percent tax increase and can also dictate a 2 percent tax cap on local spending. From my perspective at the local level, we are in an unprecedented stage of “big brother” control, be it through the State mandated tax cap or the recent housing settlement requiring the County to sue its own municipalities.
I wait for the days when the taxpayer becomes the most important special interest group.