Mayor & Trustees deal with composting toilet fees, trash, and Jaycox Pond
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Against a backdrop of stock market fluctuations and worldwide economic angst, the Cold Spring Village Board last week learned of a new local challenge, a $25,000 jump in the village contribution to employee retirement programs. The news came Aug. 9, when Village Accountant Ellen Mageean gave her monthly report. In related business, the board heard an overview of the 2010-2011 fiscal year, which ended May 31, and a plea from Trustee Airinhos Serradas that, in an “entitlement society” they consider cutting the cost of employee health insurance. Other matters covered in the wide-ranging session included composting toilets, trash, and the rediscovery of a potential, long-forgotten village reservoir.
Retirement System Woes
Mageean said she recently found out the payment due to the New York State and Local Retirement System, which handles the village program, “has gone up significantly from what we budgeted for.” For the general-employee share, due in December, the village budgeted $45,000, but its new share will be $64,000, she told the board. Likewise, she added, the separate share for the police will be $37,000; the village budgeted $31,000. If the board factors in payments for the staff of the water and sewer departments, whose budgets are different from the general village budget, the $64,000 figure climbs to $84,000, she said. Mageean attributed the abrupt escalation not to increases in village salaries but to a rise in the state rate. Under the basic formula, according to Mageean, salaries X (times) rate = (equal) village share. “Last year the rate was 11.2 and this year it’s 15.6 for the employees. And for the police, it went from 16.8 to 20.9,” she explained. The accountant noted that the problem stems from a downturn in investment income earned by the state retirement fund, which had anticipated a 7.5 percent return. A couple of difficult years in the recent past meant the investments brought in less, she said. “If they don’t make that limit, then they need to collect more” from participating municipalities, she said. “They have to make up the money.”
Mayor Seth Gallagher suggested that the board discuss the situation next month, when reviewing 2011-12 first-quarter finances. “At some point, we’ll need to make a budget adjustment,” he said. “Earlier is obviously better, because you’re going to be not spending in some areas to cover these [higher charges].”
Paring health care costs?
Serradas linked retirement increases to another concern – employee health care. “It’s a tremendous cost,” he said of the health insurance package. “It’s not going to do down.” Under the terms of proposals passed along to his fellow board members, “on the short side, we’re saving $50,000; on the long side, $82,000,” he said. He advocated a “pro-active” stance. “There’s an entitlement society. A lot of countries are making drastic cuts and I think we, at the ground level, need to take those steps as well,” he said. “This is not to strip away benefits, but to meet the obligations and at the same time do it efficiently, which I don’t, personally, think we’re doing right now.”
Fiscal 2010-11 overview
In his 2010-11 end-of-the-year overview as village budget officer, Gallagher said that as of May 31, the general fund balance was $142,333, “allowing the village to reach its general fund surplus target of 10 percent of the annual budget, thereby putting the village in a good position to handle any unexpected emergency expenditures as well as improve its bond rating.” He said that despite downturns in the mortgage tax, Cold Spring increased revenue from other sources, including the parking-provision waivers for Main Street, sale of recycled materials, building department fees, and collected fines.
Composting toilets fee
After a short back-and-forth conversation, the board voted unanimously to set a fee of $50 for the installation inspection of composting toilets by the sewer department and $25 for subsequent, quarterly-seasonal inspections. Scenic Hudson plans use of composting toilets for its West Point Foundry preserve.
Main Street trash
The board also took up the question of trash generated on Main Street by patrons of carry-out food services. Gallagher proposed that in return for permitting placement of customer tables on public sidewalk, the village stipulate that carry-out food services provide outdoor waste cans, so diners’ trash does not cause village-supplied bins to overflow. Village Attorney Stephen Gaba said he had begun drafting a provision to require the waste cans. “It’s a little bit delicate, because we don’t want to make it look like you’re slapping the merchants,” he said.
Serradas suggested that instead of requiring merchants to supply waste cans, since “it’s not necessarily their garbage,” the village buy trash compacting bins, which cost $2,500 to $4,000 each. “You’ve got to look long term – what will you save” through use of compactor trash bins, he said. Gallagher said food-services themselves might help out. “What about just asking them to put a garbage can out?” From the audience, Tom Rolston, the Depot Restaurant owner, proclaimed the debate “much ado about nothing.” He favored making food establishments provide trash cans for outdoor tables. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask,” he said. “They’ll do it. We do it. It’s no big deal.”
A long-lost reservoir?
The board authorized a title search on Jaycox Pond, on the outskirts of Nelsonville. The mayor said that references to village water rights to the pond turned up in documents during searches on property purchased from the old West Point Foundry around 1921. If the village can use Jaycox Pond as a reservoir, it could be “an option for the future, should we ever want that,” he said. “We have plenty of water this year but there are other years when we don’t.”