To the editor:
The coming year’s village budget is the seventh one on which I have the privilege to work. It has been-as well-the most difficult one to complete by far. Cutting over $400,000 out of the initial proposed budget meant making difficult decisions. We knew revenue in the coming year would be going down. We knew taxable valuation within the village would be slipping for a fourth year in a row. We knew large mandated costs like labor agreements and non-discretionary personnel benefits would be rising modestly, no matter whether we could afford them or not. We also knew that many households in the village have been forced into difficult and lean economic times. We took as our charge to avoid adding to the economic pressure already on village residents and property owners.
Therefore, from the outset of the budget process, we resolved, as Trustee Olver put it a month ago, to pursue a “zero or as close to zero” tax increase as possible.
The good news is that tonight we enact a village budget that is smaller than last years and that delivers a tax cut for village property owners of 1.8%. This tax cut may be the village’s first in many decades. While I would be happy to learn of other municipalities or school districts that are delivering tax cuts to their constituents, I have not yet heard of any others doing so at this time.
We had two positive things working for us in unprecedented doses this year. First, the village board members were united in the goal and trusted each other throughout the process. Second, we benefited from an extremely cooperative village staff that was willing to work with the village board on several rounds of the budget revisions in the past month. The result, a tax cut of 1.84%, is unprecedented in recent years for the Village and indeed an exceedingly rare occurrence among Westchester County’s villages.
How did we lower the tax rate?
We achieved this tax rate reduction even as the total taxable valuation remained essentially flat and general revenues from non-tax sources declined slightly. We froze the cost of parking lot permits, water rates, and most building department fees at the 2008-2009 levels. Some recreation fees increased by about 5%, in many cases due to increased labor costs for those services.
All the departments cooperated very well with our requests for further cuts from the proposal budgets in the past month.
We rolled back total appropriations by net $460,000 from the initial 2009-2010 proposed budget and a net $283,000 below what was appropriated for the 2008-2009 fiscal year. We reduced the village’s growing reliance of appropriated fund balance and the water department transfers by 12% for 2009-2010 to lower our recent habit of borrowing ever more from these future rainy day funds.
We thank all the departments for such great cooperation in coming with lower budgets this year than they had last year. Some of net reductions made over last year or from the proposed to final budget for the coming year include the following (in descending order of magnitude):
We did increase the budget for one department for next year: Emergency Medical Services. EMS is the newest, smallest, but fastest growing village department. It’s budget increased by $45,000 to $249,000 for 2009-2010. The EMS Department was created a year ago, has delivered excellent value to the village, has grown to 50 volunteer members, and needs some added resources to sustain it in its infancy.
We approached this year’s budget-making process with a unified goal of reducing the tax burden as much as we could without reducing the capacity of the village to deliver services next year and beyond. We hope we have made the right choices for this year. And we hope we have done so by keeping the village on sound financial footing for the coming year. Thank you to the public for all the budget-related comments, and a big thank you to our terrific village staff as well.
— Leo Wiegman