The village received an extremely positive report from our auditors of late, which was shared with the village’s Finance Committee for review and suggestions. We are extremely fortunate that individuals including Don Gogel, Louis Parks, Ed Forst, Leighton Welch, Mary Hoch and Bill Barton lend their years of financial expertise to the village and we certainly take their advice at every turn.
Last year, our Finance Committee as well as our auditors brought to our attention the level of our fund balance. At that time, it was 11.76 percent of our yearly budget, which was at the low level of the range to sustain our AAA bond rating. Heeding their advice, we sought savings on every line in last year’s budget and have raised the fund balance to 15.72 percent of our operating budget, thus cementing our bond rating for future capital borrowing.
Unfortunately, at the same time Gov. Cuomo announced an initiative in his executive budget that punishes communities who seek to keep their fund balances at a prudent level.
The governor proposes to overhaul the provisions of the state’s binding arbitration law that allows police and firefighters to have recourse to a third party should the union and a municipality fail to agree on contract terms. Currently, third parties who have no connection to a community or pay taxes locally can decide on the pay raises for uniformed employees.
In an admirable effort to trim some of the very high awards of the past, the governor proposes a 2 percent cap on raises if a community is “fiscally distressed,” with one of the indices being that the municipal fund balance is 5 percent or less of the operating budget. If it is above, there is no cap on the percentage of wages that can be awarded.
So it leaves our village, along with every other New York community, with a powerful disincentive to be fiscally prudent and shore up fund balances recommended by every professional. Conservative budgeting can be used as a sword against municipalities in labor arbitration. Again, it seems our choice is politics versus good government.
Because budgets are so tight and the economic recovery indices, in the form of revenue increases in mortgage tax and sales tax for the village, are only climbing at a glacial pace, we must start the budget process earlier and earlier every year so we can examine every expenditure under a microscope. We are in the throes of that currently as a preliminary budget must be made public per state law by March 20. As we will add no new staff, materials or programs, the final tax numbers will directly relate to the increase in state unfunded mandates, most notably our pension and health care obligations.
Intertwined extricably with the final number of one’s tax bill, is the assessed valuation of your property in the village.
The yearly opportunity to grieve your assessment is coming up on Feb. 19. Grievance applications are available online at the village’s Website or in Village Hall. They must be returned to Village Hall by 8:45 p.m. on Feb. 19. Should you prefer to appear in person in front of the Board of Assessment Review, appointments are available between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Feb. 19 and can be secured by calling the Village Hall Tax Desk at 914-337-6500, extension 122, by the 19th at 4 p.m.
As I write, the village is still recovering from the weekend Nor’easter. With a very lean staff, our Department of Public Works crews did a terrific job first “brining” the roads to prevent ice (hence the shiny lines visible on the pavement prior to the storm), followed by the salters and then the plows when the accumulation reached 2 inches. Our newly purchased snow melter was employed efficiently and resulted in the rapid clean up of our parking lots and business district.
As a refresher, should future storms head our way, per village code sidewalks in the business district must be cleared of snow and ice by 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day of a snowfall whether or not snow is still falling. Sidewalks in our residential areas must be cleaned within 12 hours of the cessation of the snowfall, and any residual ice must be covered with sand or a like material to be made safe for pedestrian passage. Kindly notify Village Hall at 914-337-7338 if you encounter an unsafe or impassable village sidewalk.
The time of year also brings concerns about carbon monoxide in homes as windows and doors are tightly closed due to weather. Now is the opportune time to have furnaces and CO sensors checked that they are in good working order.