- Category: Resources
- Last Updated on Thursday, 31 October 2013 16:56
A Message to the Community Regarding the Supervisor's
Tentative 2014 Budget
Susanne Donnelly, Town Supervisor
October 30th, 2013
Crafting the Supervisor’s Tentative 2014 Budget has required an unprecedented effort on the part of the Administration and the Finance Office to brainstorm how to fund our operations while maintaining staffing at consistent levels to serve our residents. We discovered this year how difficult the tax cap truly becomes for municipalities that have lived within their means for the past decade, especially during boom times- consequently, the conservative spenders have less and less breathing room each year because of their wise budgeting in years past. This year, the notorious “2% tax levy cap” has become a 1.66% cap, which further ties our hands as to what we can expend. Revenues continue to be unreliable- although we have confidence that the U.S. economy is finally on the upward swing, our largest secondary tax sources (the mortgage recording tax and the sales tax) are linked directly to the health of our nation’s economy, as well as to consumer confidence levels. We continue to budget these numbers conservatively, and based on the lower end of five year averages. At the same time, Federal and State aid continue to decrease, while the Town’s expenses continue to rise: between our electricity bills (estimated to rise by as much as 12%), to our employee health insurance (expected to rise by as much as 4%) and our retirement contributions, our fixed expenses continue to rise at a much quicker rate than the steady 2% levy increase to which we’re entitled by New York State Law.
The economic climate has impacted our residents in all different ways, but one of the most dire we see is the increase in foreclosure proceedings. We have major revenue shortfalls due to taxpayers from whom we are unable to collect, which decreases our effective operating budget. We also have the financial obligation and burden of making the School Districts and Westchester County whole: regardless of whether taxpayers have paid their school or County taxes, the Town of Ossining pays the entire amount owed by our taxpayers to the Ossining and Briarcliff school districts, and to Westchester County. The Town then becomes the priority lien holder on the property, and ultimately receives the amount owed plus late fees. However, this process still requires the Town to lay out large sums of money in the interim, and we are left in a position where we are without revenues to fund our day-to-day operations.
Furthermore, we continue to contend with assessment reductions on our residential and commercial properties. Between residential “SCARS” (small claims by residents) and “tax certioraris” enacted by commercial property owners, the tax base in the Town of Ossining, and across almost every municipality in Westchester, continues to decrease. This puts the Town in a precarious spot: even before we increase taxes by one dollar, the tax rate rises simply because of the shrinking tax base. For 2014, we have seen a town-wide .06% increase of Taxable Assessed Values Town-wide, and a -.69% decrease in the Unincorporated area of the Town, as a result of tax certiorari and small claims (household) assessment reductions.However, we are confident that the Town-wide re-evaluation plan, into which we’ve entered with other Westchester municipalities to reach economies of scale on pricing, will help to slow and eventually eradicate these reductions and find a fair and equitable balance for all of our taxpayers.
However, we have faith in our employees and our other municipal leaders- we expect to continue to work hard in 2014 to find innovative ways to save money and derive revenue from non-property tax sources. We are continuing our 20+ IMAs (intermunicipal agreements) with the Village of Ossining, and we are always working to make our departments do more with less.We will experience some staff changes this year, all of which we hope will save taxpayer money and also enhance the services we’re able to provide. We will be losing one of our Deputy Tax Receivers, who will be replaced with a Clerk serving both the Tax Office and the Assessor’s Office in a split role, which will help both departments get through their heaviest times that just so happen to occur on opposite schedules. We also made the decision to add a new employee to our Parks Department in 2013, which we have noticed has significantly enhanced the quality of our Parks. However, we are sad to say that, after 30+ years, our Parks Foreman will be retiring, and we will have some decisions to make about the direction we will take in his absence. We continue to power through with only two people in the Supervisor’s Office, even as our workload continues to build, as does the workload in every other department in the Town. This administration is committed to hiring only when necessary in order to ensure we are making the most of our resources.
To that point, our tax increase for 2014is well within our allowance through New York State using most of our carryover funds from the 2013 property tax cap levy computation, with the average Town taxpayer (assessment of $22,876) paying an additional $17.80. In the Unincorporated area, the tax rate will be 101.76992 per $1,000 assessed value, or for the average assessment of $20,549 an additional $36.62. It is crucial to understand the size of the budget as a whole when examining tax rate increases. The Town’s Town-wide General Fund (10) budget is roughly $5 million in total. Therefore, every small increase in actual dollars accounts for a disproportionately larger “percentage increase” than it would on a larger budget- in 2014, a 1% rate increase is just $29,800 across the entire Town General Fund, which contains the offices of the Assessor, Tax Receiver, Clerk, Senior Services, Parks, Town Board and Supervisor. We have a bit more flexibility in the Unincorporated funds (Town Outside Villages and Highway), where 1% increase accounts for $49,000. However, as you can imagine with all the costs we have no choice but to pay, this increase doesn’t go very far!Keeping this in mind, we continue to work on cutting expenses wherever possible, including auctions of unused Town property, following a system of centralized purchasing for supplies, and forgoing non-crucial services in our buildings.
However, despite all of these cost increases and a declining assessment roll, this administration is proud to have held down expenses and remained within the NYS Tax Cap. This is due to the hard work and careful resource management of every Town of Ossining employee. As taxpayers and neighbors, we are fortunate to have such a dedicated group of public servants working for our benefit.
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