Board of Trustees Focus on Operating Budget
The Garden City Board of Trustees held its first work session of the year on February 9th to focus specifically on 2012/13 proposed operating budgets. Department heads from the Garden City Fire, Police and Building Departments, as well as Village Justice Allen S. Mathers and Village Counsel Gerard Fishberg, presented their budgets to trustees.
The Village Board is considering a preliminary requested budget totaling $59,040,447. The budget recommended by Village Administrator Robert L. Schoelle, Jr. and staff is $58,325,319, which is an increase of $4,991,590, or 10.10 percent, over last year’s approved budget. The tax levy increase would be $46.37.
Many adjustments, including making further cuts and making additional revenue projections, are expected in order to minimize the tax increase. The final budget for 2011-12 totaled $53,333,729 and called for a tax levy increase of 1.75 percent.
This year, the Board will look to increase funding in an attempt to achieve a more “normative” budget. “I think we have a long road ahead of us,” said Trustee Andrew J. Cavanaugh, who is chairperson of the Board’s finance committee. “The Village budgets as you know for the last few years have been developed along relatively conservative and prudent lines. As a result of that, there has been a little bit of underspending in certain areas. From submissions that have been made by the departments so far, obviously some of that now has to be revisited.”
Cavanaugh added that it is still uncer- revisited.”
Cavanaugh added that it is still uncertain if the Board will be able to achieve its goal, and trustees will know better if it is attainable as budget work sessions progress over the next few weeks.
State law requires the Village to file a tentative budget by March 20. The Board of Trustees can amend the budget by resolution until April 30. The Board must adopt a budget by April 30 or else the tentative budget, with any amendments, becomes the actual budget.
An issue can arise with the dates if the tentative budget is not compliant with the new tax levy cap or if the cap has not been overridden. In that case, the Village will be required to levy taxes that are cap compliant and adjust the budget later.
The Board of Trustees unanimously voted at its February 2nd meeting to hold a public hearing on March 15th to hear comments regarding a possible override by the Village of the state’s two percent tax levy cap.
Trustee Cavanaugh explained that as it continues to work on the 2012-13 budget, the Board will attempt to keep any tax levy increase under the two percent cap. However, in the event the Board decides that it needs to exceed the cap, it must first pass a local law authorizing the action. One of the first steps under this “new and complex arrangement” established in the new state law is to hold a public hearing, Cavanaugh explained.
He is concerned with the possibility that the New York State Comptroller’s Office, in its review of a municipality’s budget, can disagree with the calculations and determine the tax levy increase was incorrect and actually exceeds the cap. Cavanaugh said the results would be “onerous” if a municipality exceeds the cap without the public law in place.
The past several years have seen revenues falling below projected targets due to significant decreases in mortgage taxes and minimal returns on Village investments. When it comes to expenses, this year has seen increases in pension and health care costs, which the Village cannot control.
More discussion is expected at budget meetings between members of the Board of Trustees and Citizens’ Budget Review and Advisory Committee (CBRAC). The Department of Recreation and the Garden City Public Library budgets were discussed at a budget work session last night. (Since the meeting was held after this newspaper went to press, the article will appear in next week’s issue.)
The next budget work session, which will focus on the Department of Public Works, is scheduled for February 29th at 7:30 p.m. in the Village Hall boardroom. Residents are invited to attend, and can find the latest work session information by visiting the Village Web site or by calling the Village Clerk’s office.
During work sessions, department heads sit down with the Board of Trustees to discuss their budgets in greater detail. At times, questions from trustees and the CBRAC initiate noteworthy discussions. Here are some of the highlights from the departments discussed on February 9th:
Fire Chief Charles S. Cavarra presented the Garden City Fire Dept.’s proposed operating budget for 2012/13, which totals $7,038,724. Last year’s budget totaled $ 6,430,146.
“That’s not really a big number, and that’s what we’re dealing with at this point,” Chief Cavarra said.
There are currently five lieutenants and 26 firefighters in the department. The biggest cost is salaries at $3,135,440 and personnel costs at $2,143,771, which includes health and dental insurance, retirement, social security and worker’s compensation. Last year the department allocated $3,197,618 for salaries and $1,939,291 for personnel costs.
The total budget also includes capital items, $612,500; hydrant rental, $554,418; operating costs $538,305; and equipment, $54,290.
The fire department is asking for more funding this year to replace equipment. Last year the department requested $21,500 and this year is asking for $54,290. The major pieces of equipment included in this total are: $9,500 to replace a Thermal Imaging Camera that is 13 years old and has exceeded its life span; $6,790 for equipment dryers at stations; $10,000 to replace a 12-year-old Holmatro cutter, which is used for car accidents; and $6,500 to add a firefighter rescue pack, which is needed to aid a downed or trapped firefighter.
Cavanaugh noted that the department’s budgets from the last few years have been prudent, and it may be time to restore money for equipment maintenance. The tools and equipment take a beating, but the department will continue to hold the line on any purchases unless absolutely necessary.
Cavarra explained that one fire truck is rusting from the inside out. Village personnel are doing the repairs, but it will still cost the department a considerable amount.
“We’ve kept it tight,” Cavarra said. “It’s been hashed out. There are no luxury items, no pizza ovens, no juke boxes. All of that is gone. This is what you’re left with. Like I said, really there’s not much here.”
The department has asked for $3,500 to cover the cost of hiring a grant writer. Chief Cavarra explained that several local fire departments have received considerable amounts of grant money for various uses, including the purchase of a new fire truck and a driver training simulator. Second Assistant Chief Joseph Nadolny said the department expects to receive at least $10,000 in grant money.
Overtime costs are closely monitored, but are necessary since the fire department is a 24 hour a day, seven day a week operation. In an effort to reduce overtime, the department has lowered the num- ber of firefighters on duty from six to five. The department refers to five firefighters on duty as a “Code 4.” Chief Cavarra told the Garden City News that Code 4 has been in effect for one year and the department has not had “a single problem” with having less firefighters on duty.
It has also saved the Village more than $200,000 in overtime. In 2011/12, the department budgeted $130,000 for overtime, and is now at $90,000.
Cavarra explained that physicals are needed for every Class A and Class B firefighter at a cost of $300 each. The department currently has 82 firefighters in Class A, 21 in Class B and 32 in Class C. Fourteen firefighters who are currently in Class B are recruits who will complete their training and move up to Class A by July.
Cavanaugh suggested that since the Village has secured a favorable group rate for firefighter physicals, those in Class C should also be given the opportunity to receive physicals on a voluntary, annual or biennial basis. “The purpose would not be to test them for fitness for physical duty, but rather as a screening protocol to catch early indications of agerelated infirmities,” he explained in an email to the Garden City News after the meeting. “Surely if adopted it would be a voluntary program. But nothing has been formally proposed nor decided at this point.”
Class A firefighters may perform any firefighting task, including: responding to alarms on department apparatus or personal vehicles, wearing bunker gear, using Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), and entering fire ground hazard areas including Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH) atmospheres or in interior structural firefighting conditions. A Class B firefighter is a non-structural firefighter who meets annual requirements and is assigned to non-hazardous support duties. The scope of a Class B firefighter’s duties include: responding to alarms on department apparatus and personal vehicles and wearing bunker gear. Class B firefighters are not permitted to enter a fire ground hazard area, including IDLH atmospheres or act in interior structural firefighting conditions. They are not permitted to wear SCBA. A Class C firefighter is a nonstructural firefighter who is assigned to administrative duties only.
Chief Cavarra began his presentation by saying the department has been in a “very transitional phase.” When asked to elaborate after the meeting, he responded via e-mail: “Generally speaking, in the past, day-to-day administrative duties were handled by the Headquarters Captain. After his departure, the Chiefs’ Office was tasked with the responsibility to restructure the management chain to assume the responsibilities.
“The four Chiefs divided up the duties he performed, and each now oversees a different area of the department. All administrative tasks are now within the control of the Chief’s Office. I am proud to report that with an effective management team in the Chief’s Office, the transition has been successful. As with all change, ‘growing pains’ are part of the process.”
Second Deputy Mayor Nicholas Episcopia asked Chief Cavarra if part-time workers could be utilized to handle the administrative work. The fire chief said he would look into the possibility.
Trustee Dennis Donnelly asked if the Village has researched the possibility of hiring an outside agency to handle code enforcement, which is currently handled by a lieutenant. Village Administrator Schoelle responded that the Village looked at the issue last year.
“A trustee was made aware of the availability of a private fire inspection service and we were provided with some limited info and a business card,” Schoelle told the Garden City News via email after the meeting. “My recall is that it was agreed that the Village’s practice of having a fire lieutenant and a firefighter make the inspections was a positive productivity measure. I anticipate that the International City/County Management Association will be addressing the issue as part of its analysis of our fire service.”
The police department is a 24 hour, seven-day-a-week operation, and officers are needed to fill that entire time. The department’s proposed budget totals $9,359,450, which is $429,546 more than the modified 2011/12 budget. This year’s budget had to be modified to include three retroactive raises awarded in arbitration.
“We certainly want to continue to give residents in the community the service that we have continually provided over the years, and we think the level of service that we do provide is that which the community is demanding,” Police Commissioner Ernest Cipullo said.
According to Commissioner Cipullo, personnel costs total $7,172,809, and comprise 94 percent of the police budget. His proposed budget includes funding for 55 sworn officers and 13 civilians. The department is currently operating with 52 sworn officers and 14 civilian employees.
The department’s biggest expense other than salaries is overtime. This year, it is projected to cost the department $675,423; Cipullo has requested $578,667 for next year based on a complement of 55 officers.
The question facing the Board when it comes to the police department is, is it more cost effective to keep staffing at 52 and have an overrun in overtime costs, or is it financially wiser to hire more officers to reach the optimum level of 55.
More officers on the force would raise revenues since some of the officers can be redeployed to tactical squads that handle traffic enforcement. In 2011, 9,090 traffic tickets and 18,982 parking tickets were issued. In 2010, 7,906 traffic tickets and 18,810 parking tickets were issued. The amount of revenue generated for 2011 has not been finalized and is estimated to be $1,150,000. In 2010/11, the total revenue was $1,038,772.
The commissioner is concerned about the effect overtime has on officers. He said it definitely has a negative effect on productivity.
The department currently operates five patrol posts during the day (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and evening (4 p.m. to midnight), and then four from midnight to 8 a.m. A minimum of five officers work during each post, supervised by one staff sergeant.
Village Justice Court
Village Justice Allen S. Mathers gave the shortest presentation of the evening. His proposed budget of $325,343 is actually $1,153 less than last year’s budget.
In previous years, Mathers would talk about the grant money he received that year for courtroom security or office equipment. However, this year he sadly reported that he has been informed that New York State is out of funding and no longer offering grants for these purposes. Mathers is currently investigating other possible revenue-generating methods, but declined to elaborate at this time until he receives advice from counsel.
Superintendent of Buildings Michael D. Filippon reported that his requested budget of $682,312 is an increase of 8.4 percent over last year. He explained that the majority of the increase is due to one employee who elected to transfer approximately $22,000 from accumulated time into the Village’s deferred compensation plan and a $20,000 increase in the cost for the electrical inspection agency, which has been adjusted to reflect a more “realistic” number now that the Village has utilized the agency’s services for a while and can more accurately budget the amount. The cost is more than covered by the fees charged by the Village for the service. Without these two items, the budget increase would be 1.6 percent.
Filippon said revenues have remained strong. Total revenues last year totaled $691,521. This year revenues are conservatively estimated to be $644,323. However, Filippon added that the final total has historically come in higher than the estimate.
Village Counsel Gerard Fishberg is asking the Board for a budget of $654,500, which is $15,500 less than last year. The reduction is taken from his litigation budget. This year, Fishberg is requesting an increase of $18,500 for his firm’s general retainer.
In 2010/11, Fishberg requested a substantial increase in his firm’s general retainer from $181,000 to $206,500. His firm was receiving $158 an hour and wanted to increase it to $175 an hour. This generated discussion as some trustees argued that given the economic climate and the Village’s financial woes, it was not an appropriate time for such a large increase.
At the time, both sides ultimately agreed that Fishberg would ask for considerably less for 2010/11, and then see an increase in 2011/12. However, Fishberg kept his firm’s retainer the same in 2011/12, and is now asking that the general retainer be increased to $225,000. This would equal $175 an hour.
In the area of litigation, Fishberg reduced the amount from $150,000 to $120,000 this year. The certiorari line has been decreased from $200,000 to $180,000.
Trustee Laurence J. Quinn suggested that the Village has utilized the services of Cullen & Dykman since the 1990s and should send out requests for proposals to other law firms.“We don’t know if you are the best and the brightest and the most economic,” Quinn said. “I think it would be appropriate for us to at least pursue that issue.”
“I will leave it to my colleagues to decide,” Cavanaugh responded. Cavanaugh, who is an attorney, offered his opinion: “You can’t know who is the best and the brightest in something like a to-be-occurring legal encounter. I, for one, am favorably impressed by the work Cullen & Dykman has done over the years.” He added that an hourly rate of $175 is considered a “bargain purchase” in the legal market.