Going up

Taxpayers in Fredonia can expect to pay more in the village’s next fiscal year which begins June 1.

Mayor Stephen W. Keefe stated as much during his budget presentation to the village board at a special meeting Monday.

Keefe’s budget proposal calls for a $1.08 tax increase per $1,000 of assessed valuation, which amounts to a 3.3 percent hike over the current rate.

This will raise the village tax rate to $33.81 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Keefe stated the increase complies with the state’s property tax cap legislation passed in 2011 but won’t cover the general fund’s increasing costs.

“Even with this increase, our expenses still exceed revenues resulting in a (general) fund operating loss of $458,429; 59.1 percent of unreserved fund balance is consumed to balance the budget,” he explained. “Our taxable assessed property value is higher by $823,622 when compared to the 2012-2013 budget.”

That increase brought in an additional $27,846 in property tax revenue but does not cover additional costs. Keefe budgeted for increases in employee pension costs (18.6 percent); police and fire retirement pension costs (19.9 percent); health insurance (16 percent); and general liability insurance (5 percent). The mayor did recommend pay increases for part-time police officers and firefighters, with new recruits going from $12 to $13 per hour and experienced officers increasing from $15 to $16 per hour.

In addition, Keefe said his budget anticipates a minimum wage of $9 per hour for the 6,000 budgeted hours of street department seasonal employees. The mayor said his budget maintains current staffing levels in the general fund, except for the fire department. Keefe called for two more firefighters – if a paid ambulance service run by the fire department is realized.

After the meeting Keefe talked more about that possibility while noting there will be no hiring until any revenues were realized.

“At this point right now we haven’t met with our law firm to decide whether we’re going in that direction. Right now there’s no cost to us at all,” he explained. “If we do go into the business and the revenues start coming in, then we look at hiring. We’ll probably get the revenues coming in, hire one based on the revenues. As they show good performance we might hire the second.”

Keefe stated fire department hours are budgeted at 48 hours per week with overtime not paid until a firefighter has exceeded 53 hours per week.

There are increases in the other two funds as well, including an increase in the minimum water usage rate from $15 to $25 per billing period and an increase in the minimum sewer rate charge per quarter from $5 to $10. The water fund budget is up 9.9 percent with the fund’s reserve being tapped for $25,482 to balance the revenues.

“My budget assumes hiring one new operator trainee to staff overnight operations of the plant,” Keefe stated. “Overtime is anticipated to be reduced by $18,000 due to the new employee. That will be offset by the same type of retirement, health insurance, liability insurance increases the general fund faces. In addition, Keefe added $5,000 to both the equipment maintenance and water testing fees lines. Capital projects from local funds are budgeted at $72,000.

The sewer fund’s reserves will be hit for $241,884 to help balance that budget, which is saddled with the same employee retirement, health insurance and liability insurance increases as the other funds. Local sewer funds will be used to finance $45,000 in capital improvements.

“We will be meeting with an engineering firm to discuss our performance-based project for improvements to our wastewater treatment plant that will be offset by energy savings,” Keefe explained.

The Community Development Fund will be used to provide $20,000 as a matching fund for residential sidewalk replacement and capital costs for village sidewalk replacement.

“Rehabilitation loans for anticipated projects on East Main Street complex for $28,000 and other anticipated loans of $20,000 are included in this budget,” Keefe continued. “In addition, I am recommending $5,500 for Chadwick Bay dues.”

After the meeting Keefe said inflation is “just eating us alive.”

“I stayed within the cap, I was trying to be as thrifty as possible,” he added. “But with health insurance going up, pensions going up and everything else going up, I think it’s a bare-bones budget but it also addresses some of the leading concerns that I have; which are the water treatment plant, the personnel needed for the water treatment plant and modifications that are needed up there.”

With reserve funds being used to balance the budget Keefe was asked what that meant for the 2014-2014 budget.

“Sooner or later we’re headed for a disaster but I don’t think we’re the only village or anything else that’s in that same situation,” he replied. “I’m kind of hoping that with the pensions, with the way the stock market is going right now, that sooner or later they’re going to cap the pensions because it’s based on the stock market. So right now I think they’re stockpiling some nice investments and we’re not seeing that yet.

“I hope by next year we start to see some of those results but we do have to address the spending of the reserves because it’s a disaster waiting to happen, but at the same time I don’t want to put an extra burden on our taxpayers.”

The village board will have the final say on the budget and will begin meeting next week to make its changes, if any.

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