By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Cold Spring’s draft 2011-12 general fund budget last Thursday (April 7) prompted comments about infrastructure projects, equipment repairs, street repaving, and the virtues of recycling. The new fiscal year begins June 1. Scrutinized by the mayor, trustees, and 17-person audience at an official public hearing, the budget anticipates expenditures of $2,872,006 and the same amount in revenue, with $1,404,844 in tax income, $1,387,162 in non-tax revenue, and an $80,000 surplus or “appropriated fund balance” rolled over from the current fiscal year. Total expenditures for 2011-12 would rise .7 percent, or less than 1 percent. But the “rate per thousand” in property taxes would increase from $9.84 to $9.94, an increase of 10 cents or 1.03 percent. The “rate per thousand” is the rate charged for each $1,000 of a home’s assessed value.
The village also keeps a separate Firemen’s Service Award budget for pensions or deferred compensation due volunteers in the Cold Spring Fire Company for their years of service. For fiscal 2011-12, the proposed fire pension budget is $65,570, of which $50,114 would come from village taxes and $15,456 from payments by Nelsonville and the Town of Philipstown. (Those figures reflect revisions since March 22; in the earlier draft Cold Spring was responsible for $52,570 and Nelsonville and Philipstown for $13,000.) The Cold Spring fire department covers Nelsonville and parts of Philipstown.
In addition, Cold Spring has discreet budgets for the water and sewer departments. For 2011-12, the water fund budget is $857,850, with $616,100 provided by non-tax revenue and $241,750 by an appropriate funds balance transfer. According to Mayor Seth Gallagher’s formal budget address, which he read aloud at the beginning of the hearing, the transfer “will help pay for a number of capital projects.” The $485,400 sewer fund expenditures anticipated for 2011-12 will be met through $406,400 in non-tax revenue and $79,000 in the fund balance.
The mayor said that at 1.03 percent the property tax rate increase “is the lowest tax-rate increase in nine years” and “less than half the rate of inflation for the past 12 months.” He explained that the draft general fund budget is high compared to most years, thanks to $685,900 in revenue and $722,000 in expenses for the upcoming Main Street paving and drainage project, largely funded through a federal transportation grant. The village must supply funds for 5 percent of the costs, or $36,100 — the difference between $722,000 and $685,900. New York State is supposed to contribute 15 percent as well, but Albany’s portion “has not yet been allocated,” Gallagher said. Asked what would happen if the state fails to come through, he said that “we’d have to find other sources. We’d find a way to do it if we had to. It’d be $108,000.” Despite the U.S. government’s financial crunch, he said he did not expect trouble regarding the federal allotment. “I don’t think they even have the money anymore,” since it probably was transferred to the state some time past, he added.
Water and sewer projects foreseen
Water fund projects set for 2011-12 include a $195,000 replacement of the master control panel at the water treatment plant; $30,000 for rehabilitation of the second of three filtering units and repairs to the dehumidifier, and $80,000 in engineering-related work for repairs to the three aging dams that constitute an essential part of the reservoir and clean-water system. At the sewer department, repairs and upgrades also will be a big part of the financial picture. “There’s still quite a bit of work to do as far as stopping one of our big problems, the inflow and infiltration (I and I)” into the sewer system, Gallagher said. Solving the problem will involve finding the source of the leaks and sealing the sewer mains. “We have to do the sewer [initiative]. We could be fined daily. This inflow and infiltration forces us to discharge into the Hudson. We’re being pushed, in a way,” he said.
The village also intends to replace faltering, approximately 30-year-old motors at the sewage treatment plant. Gallagher said that electricity for the sewage facility costs $50,000 to $60,000 annually. “The vast majority is for the motors that aerate the tanks the sewage is treated in. We think we can cut that down with new motors by, I’d say, one half,” and perhaps more, he said. The whole project will cost $250,000 and if necessary, the village could take on bonds or seek grants to underwrite expenses, he said. Merely saving money on electricity “will go a long way” toward paying off any debt or upfront outlays, the mayor predicted. “You might not have to have a [sewer-service] rate increase. There will be great energy savings when we replace the motors.”
Trustee questions street paving, equipment repair, lights
Street paving prompted questions from Trustee Airinhos Serradas. In 2009-10, the village budgeted $35,838 for resurfacing, but for 2010-11 it earmarked only $3,500. As of Feb. 28, it had spent $1,104. “Now,” he said, “we’re pushing up to $23,000,” the amount listed in the 2011-12 draft budget for street maintenance-resurfacing. Serradas said the streets slated for repairs are Oak, the Boulevard-Forge Gate intersection, and Grandview Terrace. “I’m just wondering why we’re considering even one of these,” he said. “I have an issue with having this money allocated specifically for these streets. We need the curbs and sidewalks repaired. If it’s not going to the sidewalks, just eliminate it altogether.” Gallagher said that the village can use money from that budget category for pothole repairs and other projects as well improvements to any street. “It allows us to do other projects as well.” As the mayor also had stated in his budget address, the 2011-12 tentative budget provides $24,000 sidewalk maintenance-repair, a “continuing emphasis. If more money is needed for repair and replacement of sidewalks, the board can transfer appropriated money from areas such as street maintenance-resurfacing.”
Serradas moved on to street department vehicles. “We’re looking at $13,000″ in street maintenance equipment repairs, he said. “I know a lot of the vehicles are outdated. Rather than looking at spending $13,000 to repair vehicles we should be looking at taking a portion of this and start the cycle of acquiring vehicles that will actually last a lot longer, instead of spending so much money every year on repairs.”
“I don’t think we spend all that much. These vehicles continue to run,” the mayor answered. “So far this year we’ve spent only $2,500 keeping them running. You save a lot of money that way.” He said the repairs involve such items as a replacement motor in a “street vac,” a transmission repair, and new “tires for trucks — I think it’s cheaper than buying a new truck.”
Proposed lighting costs also drew Serradas’ attention. He said that the anticipated “dark skies” lighting project for the dock area “should save the village a considerable amount of money” and questioned why the tentative budget contains $38,000 for general street lighting. “I discussed this exact same thing with you [before]. I’ll say it again,” Gallagher replied, somewhat testily: “The dock has nothing to do with general street lights. Any savings down there is going to have zero effect” on lighting in other neighborhoods. He pointed out that only two lines below the general street lights budget figure is one for spending $1,300 for lights at the bandstand and dock.
Recycling means revenue
Overall, the mayor said, the planned budget “includes several notable increases in non-tax revenues as well as decreases in expenditures. One area that includes both is recycling.” For the recycled goods it collects, Cold Spring “now receives revenue, anticipated at $4,200 [for 2011-12] and no longer has to include an expenditure of over $11,000 for disposal of recycling. The net savings amounts to over $15,000 to taxpayers.” In addition to producing revenue, recycling now is — as Gallagher put it — more “user-friendly,” allowing a “single stream” mixing of paper with plastic, metal, and glass items in the weekly recycling pick-ups.
“I’m very happy the recycling seems to be making money,” village resident Stephanie Hawkins said.
“It’s certainly helpful to us,” the mayor agreed. “Next I think we’ve got to get into promoting composting, the heavy parts of the trash.”
Kathleen Foley welcomed that idea, noting that as part of their garbage villagers often bag up leaves, cuttings and other plant parts that could be composted. “If there were some way to make money on waste, all the better,” she said.
A 1% property tax increase, though small in nature, is still an increase. In austerity times I still don’t see how discussion of a pay increase for the Mayor, or any elected official is prudent. I guess the voting public will only find out after the fact anyway, since it will most likely be decided in Executive Session.