Village Board of Trustee Holds Public Hearing on Tentative Budget for 2009

The Village Board of Trustees met on April 9, 2008 at 7:30pm.

The purpose of this meeting was to consider the Tentative Budget for 2009 and to hold a public hearing so as to obtain feedback and answer questions from residents.

Acting Police Chief Ken Sanford, Acting DPW Superintendent Jeff Voss, DPW Consultant Richie Morrow and Village Engineer Rich Messer were all present in order to confirm information and answer any questions that might arise.

Following some brief opening remarks, Mayor Stebbins turned the meeting over to Chief Budget Officer Darby, who gave a very brief overview of the 2009 budget. As previously explained at the March 28, 2008 Board meeting, the 2009 budget consists of two parts: the Operating Budget (General Fund and Water Fund) and the Capital Budget. The audience was provided with a packet entitled “Background Information Compiled for the Village Taxpayers” which outlined Budget Composition as well as Real Property Taxes and also changes in Budget Items of $5,000 or more from the 2008 budget. In addition, an outline of the Proposed Capital Budget was provided in the packet. A copy of this packet can be downloaded here.

After a brief overview, Chief Budget Officer Darby turned the meeting back over to Mayor Stebbins who reviewed each of the items outlined in the Background Information Packet as they pertain to the Operating Budget. Once he had completed his review, the Board opened the floor to questions from the public.

Chris Sonne inquired about the size of the Contingency Fund. Specifically, he suggested that the Fund be lowered to the same size as it was in 2008 which would allow for a much smaller tax increase. Mayor Stebbins responded that a large percentage of the Contingency Fund is needed to cover legal expenses as a result of ongoing litigation and there is no way for the Village to predict how costly this may become. Sally Sonne then asked if it might be “more honest” to budget the money under Legal Expenses rather than Contingency Fund. Trustee Darby responded that, while the Village certainly does not want to tax people unnecessarily, many significant uncertainties such as Engineering costs and significant weather events in addition to litigation face the Village and therefore it is important to have enough funds available to cover these uncertain costs.

Alan Heywood inquired as to whether or not the projected budget amounts reflected possible further interest rate reductions. Mayor Stebbins responded that to the best of their knowledge they did. Mr. Heywood then commented that since the Village did not bring in as much money as anticipated on rental space in 2008, perhaps the rents should be lowered moving forward. With regard to the Police budget, Mr. Heywood inquired as to whether or not the Village plans to release part time officers once they have added two new full time officers. The answer is yes. Mr. Heywood also asked about the temporary help in the Village Office and wondered if the position was truly temporary considering the amount budgeted to cover this expense in 2009. Mayor Stebbins replied that the purpose of bringing in temporary help was to allow employees in the Village Office to catch up on a backlog of administrative work, and this task has not yet been completed. Once things have been brought up to date, the Village hopes to hire a part-time employee to assist in the Village Office. Finally, Mr. Heywood commented that in addition to the great number of serious infrastructure issues that the Village faces, there are also other infrastructure related issues such as roads and drains in need of repair as well as street lights, which have been neglected and are in a state of progressive deterioration. He further commented that it might make more sense to raise taxes and correct these issues now rather than to allow them to deteriorate any further while the Village is addressing other issues.

Michele Lindsay inquired about funds that had been allotted for building and equipment repairs in 2008 and not used. In addition she inquired about similar funds that had been allotted for dam repairs and remain unspent. Mayor Stebbins responded that the Wee Wah dam repair process was still in the early stages and that the left over funds would be rolled over and used for that project. In addition the monies set aside for building and equipment repairs will also roll forward and become a revenue item for fiscal year 2009 budget as “appropriated surplus”. Funding for capital projects will now be included in the Capital Budget.

Peter Regna inquired about property assessments, particularly whether or not new construction had been included in the Assessed Valuation figure. Trustee Hansen responded that the properties had been included with values based upon their stages of completion and as those properties receive Certificates of Occupancy they will have higher assessed value and in turn bring in more money for the Village.

Sally Spooner inquired about the Fund Balance and wanted to know if the figure of $900,000 as sent to New York State was correct.

Chris Sonne inquired about the size of the Reserve Fund/surplus. Trustee Darby assured Mr. Sonne that the Village is not building up an unreasonably large surplus.

A brief discussion regarding surplus funds ensued. Trustee Hanson commented that the State has specific recommendations with regard to surplus amounts and should our surplus exceed those recommendations, it should be returned to residents in the form of a tax cut.

Finally, former DPW Superintendent Richie Morrow expressed his concerns over a reduction in funds allotted for DPW with regard to buildings and equipment. Richie cautioned that the reason the department had been under budget in this area for 2008 was that they had not experienced any trouble with the water mains in the Hamlet. Should a main break under Rt. 17 or the New York State Thruway, it could become VERY expensive for the Village. He went on to report that hydrant testing in town had been ceased in an effort to prevent breaks, however, this does not ensure that a break will not occur.

Next, the Capital Budget was discussed.

Chief Budget Officer Darby began with a brief description of the Capital Budget, which will consist of funds to be used for major infrastructure repairs within the Village over a four-year period ranging from 2009-2012. These monies will be attainted through borrowing in the capital market, specifically in the form of bond resolutions that Trustee Darby intends to introduce at Board meetings moving forward. Because the issue of the Tuxedo Lake dam is still under litigation, there are multiple uncertainties when it comes to this major repair project. Some “guestimation” work has been done to ensure that there will be funds to cover all aspects of the project from actual dam repairs to possible rerouting of water and sewer lines.

Village Engineer Rich Messer prioritized projects for the general fund as follows:
Sewer System
Road Restructuring
Water Fund projects were also prioritized:
Water main clearing and relining or replacement
West Lake Water Line System

Many of the uncertainties regarding the Tuxedo Lake dam hinge on the outcome of the DEC Litigation. However, regardless of the outcome, it is probable that the waterline currently running through the dam will need to be rerouted. Sewer lines also run through the Tuxedo Lake dam and may need to be rerouted as well. The Wee Wah dam suffers from both a leak near the base and a bulge.

The Village Water distribution systems need work. There is currently a waterline running from the Water plant to the West Side of the lake and this line is very old. Should anything occur to cause a leak or break, residents on the West Side of the Lake would be in big trouble! Water main clearing as well as relining or possible replacement must be done.

Many Village roads have weakened foundations and need to be refortified. This is particularly evident on Tuxedo Road, where guide rails are collapsing due to road erosion.

Finally, the issue of street lights must be addressed as many Village Streetlamps have either burned out or are broken and Orange and Rockland will no longer service the type of light fixture installed in the Village.

Once the GIS (digital mapping) system is in place the Village will be in a much better position to begin working on these major projects.

Following this overview, the public was invited to ask question or make comments.

Alan Heywood commented that $200,000 over four years seemed a small amount of money to put towards road restructuring given the severity described. He inquired as to whether the amount allotted is adequate to complete the necessary work. Mayor Stebbins responded that because there are several more critical infrastructure issues, specifically the dams, which command immediate attention, the Village can only afford to budget $200,000 at this time.

Mr. Heywood then commented that the Village Improvement Advisory Committee has spent a great deal of time assessing the street lighting issue. Currently, roughly 60% of Village streetlamps are not working, which could be considered both a safety and a security issue. Mr. Heywood suggested that this issue needs more attention.

Mayor Stebbins responded by explaining that because O & R will not service the current fixtures, the Village has been forced to look at alternatives. O & R offers one alternative, which is a Cobra light head. These fixtures provide very broad sweeping bright light and are not in keeping with the type of streetlamps in the Village. As a result, the Village has been investigating alternative options, which are proving to be potentially very expensive for the Village at a time when we face so many other major infrastructure issues. In the meantime, Trustee Worthy commented that the Village might be able to put off replacement of the fixtures through the use of long-life light bulbs, which have been ordered.

Michele Lindsay inquired about the timing of the Capital Budget, particularly whether or not there would be time for the Village Improvement Committee to revise some of their proposed projects and resubmit new estimates for consideration and was told that VIAC could submit updates.

On Behalf of the Environmental Advisory Committee, Chairwoman Sally Spooner inquired about funding for the Lakes Management project. With the permission of the Board, the Environmental Advisory Committee put a tremendous amount of time and effort into preparing an RFP for the position of Lake Manager. Two bids, of $60,000 and $96,000 have been received. Through meetings with various State Agencies, the committee has determined that the Village may qualify for grant money, which would help to shoulder the burden of expense. However, these funds are time sensitive and the Village must act relatively quickly if they hope to attain them. The committee is asking the Village to allot $50,000 in the 2009 budget for this important cause. At the March 25 meeting of the Board, Trustee Shaw commented that she was extremely disappointed to see that funding for this project had not been included in the budget. Ms. Spooner echoed Trustee Shaw’s disappointment and reiterated the importance of the project for the Village on both an immediate and long-term scale.

Mayor Stebbins responded that the project is a worthy one and while it is effectively before the Board, before they allocate funding for it, more specific information is needed. Trustee Shaw commented that the Village Lakes should be a top priority and that the longer the Village takes to invest in the project the more costly it will become. Susan Goodfellow inquired as to what further information the Board required in order to make a decision, citing the fact that each Board member was provided with copies of the RFP as well as the two bids received. She went on to express her disappointment with the lack of attention that this important project has received from the Board and suggested they need to adopt a more pro-active policy. Mayor Stebbins responded that he supports the cause, however the Board faces a challenge fitting it into the budget. He commented that he and Board members planned to attend a Lakes Management presentation by the two bidders so that the Board will be better informed about the project. Trustee Hansen commented that he also supports the cause and reassured the Environmental Committee that there is still work to be done on the budget. He suggested that the Board could vote on the issue after a completing a thorough review of the budget.

Peter Regna commented that the Village has undertaken various Environmental Studies in the past which have not amounted to great change and that if the Village cannot set aside monies for Lake Management moving forward perhaps this is not the proper time to invest in the study. Ms. Spooner responded that completion of the study and its results will determine whether or not the Village needs to set aside funding moving forward.

The Public Hearing was adjourned at roughly 10:15pm. It will be continued at the April 16, 2008 Board of Trustees meeting.

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