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The Proposed 2019-20 Village Budget: Explaining the Numbers

ScarsdaleSealThe proposed $58 million 2019-20 budget for Scarsdale Village was the subject of both a meeting of the League of Women Voters of Scarsdale on April 8 and a budget hearing at Village Hall on Tuesday night April 9.

The tentative budget includes a $1,166,747 or 2.91% budget increase which means that a homeowner with a house valued at $1,515,000 would pay roughly $7,027 in Village taxes, which is a $256 increase over last year. Village taxes remain 18.32% of the total property tax bill, with school taxes accounting for 63.65% of the payment and an additional 18.04% for Westchester County.

At the meeting of the LWVS, Dara Gruenberg led a discussion about the budget with Village Manager Steve Pappalardo, Village Treasurer Mary Lou McClure, Trustee Justin Arest and Scarsdale Mayor Marc Samwick who responded to a list of questions that were presented in advance of the meeting.

Samwick explained that the Village tries to keep debt service payments level and only adds more debt when old debt rolls off. However, this year a payment for financing the library renovation rolled on before the last payment for debt on the Popham Road Bridge project which will roll off next year, resulting in a $452,000 increase in debt service.

About the general fund balance, Mary Lou McClure explained that the Village retains an unassigned fund balance of 10-15% to pay for unexpected expenses such as storm damage and repairs. Moody’s considers the level of fund balance when they grant their bond rating to the village.

Concerning road repair, this year the Village maintained a budget of $815,000 for road repair and hopes to transfer another $500,000 out of the general fund for additional road work. They are hoping to accelerate repaving and now require Con Edison to do curb-to-curb repaving of any roads they tear up when doing repairs or improvements.

Discussing capital projects, Pappalardo explained that the Village is currently doing work on our roads, sanitary and storm sewage system and water pipes. They are looking at the water distribution system to identify needed repairs in lines and valves, some of which are over 100 years old. If the valves are not functioning properly it is difficult to make repairs. Pappalardo said, “there is leakage in the system. $6 million is allocated over the next five years.” The work is being financed by the sewer rent fee and is not dependent on tax dollars.”

De-silting is also being done at Cayuga Pond, a $1.4 million project funded by a $1.1 million grant and a $350,000 contribution from the Village. The Hutchinson River bed and culverts are undergoing a clean-up with $2.5 million from the county, $1 million from the state and $620,000 or 20% from the Village of Scarsdale.

Pappalardo also reported that the renovation of the firehouse on Popham Road should be completed in a few weeks and that it will be back in service in May.

When asked about needed repairs at Village Hall, Pappalardo said, “We have to decide whether or not to fix this building. The building is old and tired. The old heating and ventilation system needs to be upgraded and the electrical system needs an upgrade in order to install a generator. The Court Room needs $1 million of work to upgrade security and it would be safer to move the dais to the left. The seats, carpeting, wood panels all need to be replaced. We need to consider whether we should build a new building or repair and renovate this one. When we renovated the public safety building we had to relocate the staff – and had to build out space to accommodate them. We could build a new building in the lower level of the lot and keep this one open as we build a new building.”

The League asked a question about evaluating the food scrap recycling program implemented last year. Pappalardo said, “Yes – it will be evaluated. The Village Manager will work with the CAC on the metrics. Gruenberg followed up, “Is it right for the CAC who are the proponents of the program to be the ones evaluating it?” Pappalardo replied, “We will look at the metrics, we will look at the number of participants – and decide where we go from here.” Mayor Marc Samwick added, “There is the potential for a perception of conflict – we need to give some thought to this,” and Trustee Justin Arest said, “My hope is that the data come from staff.”

In response to a question about water rates, Pappalardo said, “Water rate changes were made to address our needs – but we need to build up the water reserves,” Mary Lou McClure added, “ We are replacing water meters and installing remote reading systems to allow the meters to be read electronically. This will allow us to read the meters on a real time basis. We will also move to a monthly billing system so that users can be alerted if they have excess usage or a leak. We could also have a user portal so that residents can pay online and reduce our mailing costs.”

Pappalardo added, “We have been dependent on those who use a lot of water to pay the excess rates. But as people monitor more closely, they will use less and not fund the water enterprise fund.”

At a public hearing about the Village Budget at the Board of Trustees meeting on April 9, the board defended the budget in light of comments from Bob Berg and Bob Harrison.

Berg objected to the 2.91% increase calling the budget a “rollover from last year that fails to recognize the game changing limitations on the SALT deductions which limits the ability of many taxpayers to deduct state and local taxes.”

He said, the change has “impacted the real estate market dramatically and the number of houses on the market has increased dramatically, the days any house is on the market has increased and the median sales price has dropped precipitously.” He added, “Property taxes are a huge factor.”

He called Assemblywoman Amy Paulin’s lawsuit to challenge the ruling “ridiculous” and said the “lawsuit will go no place and make Scarsdale the laughing stock of the nation.”

He objected to adding a part-time code enforcer at a cost of $35,000 to the budget, claiming, “All the village needs to do is to tell their department heads to enforce the code. You can do that without hiring someone for $35,000 to enforce the code.”

He also objected to a $100,000 fee for a planning study for the Village Recreation Department that was funded in the 2018-19 budget and to a 2% salary increase for non-union staff, asking the managers to do a study to see if staff was underpaid.

Bob Harrison said, “I think we have to hold down taxes for our residents and I think 2.71% is too much. The CPI is running around 2%. He said, “Limit the tax increases – it is so harsh on our community. Look for ways to hold down our expenses.”

Responding to Berg and Harrison, Mayor Samwick said, “75% of the budget is labor related costs that are subject to long term collective bargaining agreements. We provide long-term retirement programs that are not within our control. These benefit costs have grown at phenomenal rates. The unfunded mandates are a phenomenal burden. We have infrastructure projects, roads and sewer lines – that all need work. We are acutely aware of what is coming out of Washington. We appreciate your feedback and your comments.”

And Trustee Seth Ross said, “ It’s tempting to use the CPI figure but it is not relevant. We have costs that go up independent of CPI. It is a problem in budgeting and messaging.”

Pappaplardo also explained the pressure on the Village budget saying, “Between health insurance, pension, FICA and debt service those four items accounted for $1 million of the $4 million spending increase.”

Learn more about where your Village taxes go here:

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