Spending plans within guidelines
Editor’s note: Since this story first appeared in print editions of the Livingston County News on May 2, there have been changes to the Mount Morris village budget, including increases in the water and sewer rates. The story has been updated to reflect the changes.
Livingston County’s nine villages have adopted 2013-14 fiscal year budgets, meeting the New York State deadline of May 1. The tax bills will go out — and the budgets will take effect — on June 1.
Eight of the nine villages have stayed within the levy increase limit specified by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, keeping the levy at 2 percent or less. Geneseo raised its levy 3.72 percent, but remains within the governor’s guidelines, which allow higher increases for certain pension expense thresholds. Two villages, Leicester and Mount Morris, have remarkably managed a levy decrease.
In interviews with The County News over the past three weeks, the mayors discussed methods and strategies being used to keep costs in line, to keep revenues healthy and to stay within the governor’s 2 percent recommendation.
Avon puts retirees back to work
- Total appropriations: $1,492,824
- Tax levy: $990,360
- Change in levy: up 0.8 percent.
- Projected tax rate: $6.06
- Change in tax rate: up 6 cents
“In Avon, our goal is that the tax rate will not go up more than 1 percent,” said Mayor Tom Freeman.
Avon has met the challenge of increasing retirement system contributions by re-employing, on a limited basis, experienced workers who have officially retired and are receiving pensions, so the village no longer has to make that contribution to their paychecks.
“We’ve been blessed over some years to have attrition in labor,” Mayor Freeman noted, adding, “We have been successful getting those same quality people coming back and working for us part time.”
In addition to employing several its own former DPW people on a part-time basis, the village has hired a retired member of the Rochester Police Department, James Nobel, to head its police force. Here again, the village is sidestepping the cost of pension payments. Nearly 25 percent of what the village pays to its non-retired police officers goes into the retirement system, but a temporary state waiver requested by the village has allowed Nobel to receive salary of more than $30,000 while also receiving retirement payments.
“But you can’t bank on things like this every year, so you have to look other places for savings as well,” Freeman added.
Salary and benefit increases in negotiated labor contracts are another area where the village has little or no control over increases.
So also seem to be increases in the cost of energy — but there are possibilities for savings, especially in the long term, if the village is willing to make an investment here-and-now. In partnership with the Town of Avon, the village is investigating the possibility of a 20-year lease of a solar panel system in which the leasing firm would lock in a power rate for the term of the lease. A total of 4.5 acres of panels will be required. Freeman feels it is important that at least some of the panels be in a highly trafficked and visible spot, to demonstrate village support for “green” technology and to demonstrate to taxpayers that the village board is pursuing this avenue of cost savings.
Avon’s commitment to green energy will also be evident at this month’s Association of Villages meeting, where the village will be hosting a tour of the town offices’ geothermal system in the Opera Block— where the village is a participant as a partner in the courtroom facilities
“Cooperation between the towns and villages and between villages and villages is a must if we are to manage the costs we both have,” Freeman said. Avon shares a sewer camera with three other villages, a speed trailer co-owned with Caledonia, and a stump grinder co-owned with Lima.
An important place to find cost savings is in the creativity and ideas of employees. Freeman credits DPW Superintendent John Barrett with coming up with ideas which have save hundreds of thousands of dollars, including a method of installing new sewer lines in old lines, avoiding full excavation.
“It’s a like a home management system,” Freeman suggests. “When every one of the trustees and the department heads treat village taxpaying money if it is their own money, you have a sure formula for wise spending.”
Caledonia holds levy increase at 1.5 percent
- Total appropriations: $1,284,288
- Tax levy: $887,627
- Change in levy: up 1.5 percent.
- Projected tax rate: $9.121
- Change in tax rate: up 17.4 cents
Mayor Joseph Caluorie says the budget addresses the pressing issues such as street and sidewalk repair, public park maintenance and water meter replacements while keeping spending in line with a minimal tax increase. Non-employee expenditures are down $26,548. Revenues will increase for 2013-14, in large part due to a $9,000 increase in CHIPS money, which the mayor says will be used to complete sidewalk and street projects. Employee raises range from 2 to 6 percent.
Another project included in next year’s budget will be renovation to the baseball diamonds and tennis courts on East Avenue. The village and school share the cost to repave the tennis courts. The second $65,000 payment of four installments will be made on the downtown street light project. Several water meters will be replaced with new digital meters on village properties because repair parts for the old meters cannot be obtained.
Caluorie says the village will not be replacing the culverts on Mill Street. It simply cannot afford to fund the project, estimated at $400,000. and has not been successful in securing grant money. Consequently, Mill Street will remain closed to through traffic.
The village water budget for next year will be $418,227. The rate will remain $5 per thousand gallons of water used with a flat quarterly fee of $25 per customer.
Dansville avoids tax rate increase
- Total appropriations: $3,007,098
- Tax levy: $2,085,079
- Change in levy: up 1.6 percent.
- Projected tax rate: $12.99
- Change in tax rate: no change
Dansville’s tax rate remains unchanged from last year at $12.99 per $1,000 of assessed value. The total general fund appropriation for the next fiscal year is set at $3,007,098. The tax levy comprises $2,085,079 of that number. The difference between the appropriation and revenue numbers, a total of $174,920.05, is to be made up from this year’s fund balance.
According to Mayor Peter Vogt, the appropriation changes have been generally across the board, though payroll and benefits have been a concern. However, he noted that the tax rate has been kept flat due to increased assessments and the use of the fund balance.
“Our fund balance is projected to be very positive this year, in part because we operated several employees short,” Vogt said. “We’ve been two short in the police department and one in the street department. We also haven’t been operating to capacity in the police department’s clerk position. On top of that, the clerk’s office has been short the clerk since mid-December and was without a deputy clerk from spring of last year until September. That has taken a healthy bite out of our payroll and benefit expenses. However, despite the positive impact that has had on the bottom line, I don’t believe doing without those people over the long term will help the community.”
Vogt added, “Were it not for the projected fund balance, we would be looking at a tax hike in order to maintain the level of services we currently provide. The alternative would be to reduce those services. The fact is, we can’t continue to rely on the fund balance. It’s unpredictable and unsustainable. The real solution is in the development of a broader tax base (more business) and increased property values.”
No increases are anticipated in the water and sewer rates. However, a great deal of infrastructure, in both the general fund highway lines and special water and sewer lines, is in need of repair. The village will be “on track” with these repairs in 2013-14, but a long-term plan which approaches repairs with scheduled regularity is still in the future. In fact, Vogt intends to start such planning for every department this month, before the fiscal year officially begins.
Geneseo affected by pension cost increases
- Total appropriations: $3,038161
- Tax levy: $1,576,659
- Change in levy: up 3.72 percent.
- Projected tax rate: $6.84
- Change in tax rate: up 18 cents
Geneseo takes advantage of provisions in the governor’s tax guidelines which allow for a levy increase larger than 2 percent in cases when there is growth in the overall property valuation which is being taxed and increases in payment into the state retirement system.
Geneseo Mayor Richard Hatheway noted that the formula determining the allowable pension-related increase kicks in only when the increases hit a certain threshold. When the formula was first used last year, a consultant was hired to do the calculation.
Using the allowed increases, the village has a 2013-14 tax levy increase of 3.7 percent while still keeping within the Governor’s “2 percent” guidelines. The rate increase, from $6.66 to $6.84, is spread over a total property valuation which has increased about 1 percent, and so is a lesser 2.7 percent.
Hatheway is critical of what seems to be unnecessarily large local government contributions to the state pension system. He questions the need to continue retirement cost increases when the state pension fund has, for the past two years, restored itself to yielding a rate of investment return of nearly 6 percent.
The mayor likewise is critical of the notion of the state placing any cap on local government spending. The process makes for budgets driven by an available revenue pool, not by actual needs of the community, he said.
Villages are also dealing with increases in just about every commodity they must purchase, not just health care and pensions.
Assisting the 2013-14 budget was the cessation of five year payments on a pumper truck, freeing up an additional $80,000 for general disbursements.
Like Avon, Geneseo make use of a retired employees who are now paid hourly and whose experience and expertise is being taped in economical fashion for building and park projects.
Water and sewer rates will remain unchanged in 2013-14. Some increase in water revenue is anticipated in conjunction with the installation of new master meters. The present water projects entailing storage tank, line and plant improvements are being covered from reserve accounts and by cessation of older water debt service.
While there are no major sewer projects in 2013-14, Geneseo — and other municipalities with water treatment, will need to meet new standards for phosphorus effluent content.
Hatheway takes pride in the high level of service provide to citizens of the village, in particular emergency services, recreation and upkeep.
He is a firm believer in a participatory budget creation process which taps the expertise of the department heads.
“We give them a budget, then tell them to make the specific choices,” Hatheway noted. “They’ve consistently demonstrated a sense of ownership of what they manage and how the money is raised and spent.”
Leicester will enjoy large tax decrease
- Total appropriations: $321,553
- Tax levy: $36,251
- Change in levy: down 40 percent.
- Projected tax rate: $1.89
- Change in tax rate: down $1.24
In a year where some villages struggling to confine tax levy increases to within the governor’s guideline, the small Village of Leicester has decreased its tax levy by 40 percent.
“Generally, you do not decrease taxes,” Mayor Wendy Garagozzo concedes, “but I have done it two years in a row because of the unique situation we are in.”
Garagozzo noted that the rent revenue the village receives from leasing the old school building to the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership is a big factor in alleviating tax pressure for village property owners. A capital improvement project for the school, which the village was anticipating in setting the current year’s tax level, was not realized, freeing money up for 2013-14 expenses.
“We manage what we have. If we can relieve some of the burden for the individual taxpayer then everyone wins,” Garagozzo said. “Maybe next year, based on the revenue we have, we will have to increase taxes, but I’m hoping to do that a little at time, if in fact we need to do it at all. We look at it on a year to year basis.”
When she first came on board as mayor, Garagozzo recalls the village facing a large debt for a fire truck.
“I try to think ahead for things like that and not put that kind of burden on the taxpayer. Now we have a reserve account for the next fire truck,” she noted
“The BOCES revenue has been very beneficial for us and I perceive having that contract at least a few more years, so I build my budget around that,” the mayor advised. “It’s one of the big reasons why we didn’t want to dissolve the village.”
Leicester has no full time employees. Paychecks are received by the clerk, clerk assistant, code officer, historian and village board — as well as a contractor who handles occasional water system repairs. Employees receive retirement benefits, but not health care.
Leicester water rates are determined by the rates of its purveyor, the Village of Mount Morris. There was a water rate increase last year, but there will be none this year.
Lima levy increase at 2 percent
- Total appropriations: $907,555
- Tax levy: $467,900
- Change in levy: up 2 percent.
- Projected tax rate: $5.65
- Change in tax rate: up 8 cents
Lima’s 2 percent levy increase is the product of “being cost conscious,” said Mayor Carl Luft.
“We have frugal members of our village board who try to provide the most services for the smallest cost. My board is very good at holding down costs,” Luft said.
Among categories of spending demanding special scrutiny is health insurance, “always tough to hold down while at the same time trying to provide good coverage for our employees,” Luft said. Lima employs seven full-time workers who receive benefits.
Another area of scrutiny is the general highway fund.
“We try to get the get bang for our buck,” said Luft. “An example is our trucks: We might try to keep them five years rather than four as an economy measure to stretch dollars.”
The village is also conscious of energy efficiency, replacing the light fixtures with low energy bulbs and using electric power during the hours of low demand.
“For a household or a village, these are trying times,” Luft said. “It can be tough to hold costs down.”
In 2013-13, Lima’s water rate is remaining constant. The sewer rate will increase by $4 in the third quarter after being kept constant for the last four years.
Livonia foregoes pay raises
- Total appropriations: $739,820
- Tax levy: $477,000
- Change in levy: up 2 percent.
- Projected tax rate: $7.40
- Change in tax rate: up 1 cent
According to Mayor Calvin Lathan, the village has been carefully managing debt service on its street projects. In 2013-14 a $1.4 million debt service on Street Improvement Project 2012 for West Ave., Ward, Spring and Grove streets begins, but with interest payment only. At the same time, debt service for two old projects will be fully paid off and retired.
Livonia manages with three full-time and five part-time employees. None will see pay raises. Full time employees will continue to receive medical, dental and retirement benefits. The mayor and trustees have not seen a raise since 1996.
The 2013-14 budget does include the purchase of a new street sweeper, paid for with funds from a planned, reserve account.
Lathan noted that not every municipal expenditure line has increased in cost over the years. Two noteworthy categories which have significantly declined in cost since Lathan first was elected 20 years ago are liability insurance and refuse pickup. Market factors appear to be responsible for the insurance decrease while competition among landfill sites has reduced the cost of tipping. The separation of the fire department as district-owned rather than village-owned has also contributed to the decrease in insurance — and resolved any question of village-town apportionment of costs.
Also valuable to the village is water revenue. Although maintenance and billing of the village’s water system is handled by LCWSA, water revenue still comes directly to the village and can be put to use in making physical improvements and modifications to the system. (In contrast, Livonia no longer has any involvement with sewer service, which is now purveyed entirely through LCWSA.)
Mount Morris increases revenue
- Total appropriations: $2,033,838
- Tax levy: $1,203,389
- Change in levy: down 3.14 percent
- Projected tax rate: $14.10
- Change in tax rate: down 10 cents
Close scrutiny of spending lines along with a concerted effort find new revenue — largely from stricter traffic enforcement — has allowed the Village of Mount Morris to decrease its tax levy for 2013-14.
But the budget will still bring about what is the county’s highest village tax rate of $14.10, although it will be down 10 cents from this year.
The budget was formulated under the leadership of now-retired mayor Harold Long. Joel Mike, who was a member of the village board which assembled the budget, is today the elected mayor.
“Our expenses are in check and our revenues are up.” Mike said. “Obviously, it took a team of all of us to make this happen,”
Mike was in the minority last year in voting against allowing an override of the 2 percent cap, but the austerity and creativity within the 2013-14 budget has removed the need of even discussing the question.
Mike credits Clerk Cheryl Cappadonia for “watching the books; keeping members of village government budget conscious and aware of where they are.”
The fact that the two new members of the board are professional people with young families and full time jobs — like Mike himself — will further contribute to a keen budget consciousness, Mike predicted.
“I’m hoping for a private sector mentality on the board,” he said.
Mike promised he will be a promoter of a needs-based rather than a wants-based budget.
“That’s why I’ve always voted against the fireworks,” he explained. “Once we take care of our necessities, then we can look at what we have left to spend, and prioritize among those wants.”
“I call it ‘fact of life budgeting,’ ” he said.
“From a fiduciary standpoint, our biggest challenge is our expense load,” Mike said. “We’ve been doing a little bit at a time to improve our infrastructures, but we’re never going to have every street and system in perfect condition. The money is never going to be there to do it all at once.”
“Little increases in revenue weighed against these expenses have to be applied to the neediest spots first.”
The village continues to look for outside or untapped sources of revenue.
Water and sewer charges in the village win increase. The village has put in place a $5 quarterly water increase and a $2.50 quarterly sewer increase. The increases will be evaluated each quarter to see if they remain necessary, Mike said.
Meanwhile, a plan to charge customers for the installation of new water meters has been scrapped. Rather, meter costs will be seen gradually in the quarterly bills, Mike said.
Mike noted that the village is operating its water system in the red, suggesting that either the price is too low or too much water is being lost. Improved metering is a first attack on the problem.
Nunda holds the line at 2 percent
- Total appropriations: $585,456
- Tax levy: $398,565
- Change in levy: up 2 percent.
- Projected tax rate: $9.8575
- Change in tax rate: up 35.75 cents
Nunda Mayor Jack Morgan said the 2013-14 budget “gives everybody — including water and waste water department — what they need, but gives no one everything they want.”
Morgan said that keeping at the 2 percent tax cap was a challenge because of employee health insurance and retirement expenses. The pending retirement of a long-time employee will occur near the conclusion of the upcoming fiscal year.
Extra revenue was generated from timber harvested on water treatment plant property. Accordingly, these funds went into the waste treatment budget. Rollover funds from the current fiscal year’s budget likewise assisted the effort to stay below 2 percent.
The budget does not allow repair of highways, sidewalks and other infrastructure “to the extent we’d like to do,” Morgan noted. However, Livingston County will be bearing the cost of a one lane bridge in need of major repair.
Water and sewer are experiencing small increases: a 25 cents per quarter sewer increase, and at 30 cents per 1,000 gallons increase for water usage beyond the 5,000 gallon quarterly base. The water budget includes a major project which connects the water plant with the waste water plant, for the disposal of filter backwash and overflow.
Over the past decade Nunda has lost a number of its large, beautiful trees to age and decay. The budget calls for planting 20 replacements of a salt-resistant, flowering, non-invasive species.
The village will be enjoying improvements associated with a Main Street grant, but the application seeking funding to build a composting system for waste water was not awarded. Presently the village’s sewer sludge is disposed of on agriculture land which cannot be used for human consumption crops.
The village continues to cover 55 percent of the expense of operating the joint village-town police department.