YORKTOWN, N.Y. - The 2017 preliminary town budget was unanimously adopted by the town board last week, and a public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 13.
This year, New York State has capped tax increases at less than 1 percent for all municipalities, leaving very little wiggle room for Yorktown. Supervisor Michael Grace unveiled his tentative $55.9 million budget three weeks ago, which featured a 0.45 percent increase on the tax levy (taxes collected from property owners). The town tax bill for someone with an assessed valuation of $10,000 is scheduled to increase 0.38 percent for residents with utilities ($8.19) and 0.21 percent for residents without utilities ($4.25).
After meeting with the heads of each department, the town board has added $50,000 to the budget to purchase a new truck for the refuse and recycling department. That money will come from the department’s fund balance and will not affect the levy, said Coucnilman Greg Bernard.
Other than a few minor salary adjustments, said Councilman Tom Diana, the budget remains “status quo.”
“It went very smoothly,” Diana said. “Other than a couple of purchases that had to be made, it went very quickly. We stayed within our cap without affecting other departments.”
Diana commended the town employees and department heads who continue to work effectively with dwindling staffs and limited resources.
“They’ve really tightened their belts and are working with us 100 percent,” Diana said. “They really deserve a big pat on the back. They’re doing their jobs, and they’re doing it well.”
Councilman Ed Lachterman, preparing his first budget as a town official, said the goal was to stay “as flat as possible.”
“A lot of work was done trying to keep the budgets flat,” Lachterman said. “There are some needs that come up and the salary increases, but I was just really, really pleased to see how responsible our department heads were.”
Bernard, the town board’s most veteran budget-planner with eight years of experience, said he was “happy” with how this process played out. Despite having “wish lists,” Bernard said the department heads understand the reality of the tax cap era and came in with tight budgets.
Supervisor Michael Grace has noted the town is also preparing a capital projects budget, with many of those projects likely to be bonded. Asked what projects he sees on the horizon for 2017, Bernard said he would always like to see more paving.
“I’ve always been a proponent of paving and using more funds to get paving done,” he said. “It affects most of the people.”
Spending is actually down $594,719 from last year’s $56.5 million adopted budget, and revenues are up to $23.7 million, a $1.6 million increase from 2016. The reason for the increased levy, despite the increase in revenue and decrease in expenditures, is the $2.3 million less the town used in fund balance. Last year, the town used $4 million in surplus money to keep the levy down, while only using $1.7 million in 2017. About $7 million remains in the town’s unassigned fund balance, as of last year.
A message left for Grace was not returned by press time. In a video posted to his Facebook page, Grace said he was happy to once again “hold the line” on taxes.
“That’s five years in a row,” he said. “I’m very proud of that accomplishment.”
Spending is up $4.8 million since Grace’s first budget in 2012 while revenues have increased by $3.6 million, according to budget information. During that time, the tax levy has increased $588,557.
Councilman Vishnu Patel, the lone Democrat on the board, said he voted to adopt the preliminary budget only “in the spirit of cooperation.”
“It’s the supervisor’s budget and he has four votes,” Patel said. “Whether I vote yes or no, it’s going to pass.”
He accused Grace of postponing critical infrastructure projects to keep taxes low. Despite wanting to increase spending, Patel was not clear about how the town should do so.
“It’s fuzzy math,” Patel said of Grace’s budget.
Patel was also critical of residents who complain that taxes are “too high,” yet don’t speak up or come to the budget hearings.
“It’s really sad,” he said. “It bothers me.”
This year’s public hearing on the budget will take place at 6 p.m. at Town Hall, before the regularly scheduled town board meeting.