Fredonia mayor’s budget grazes, but stays under tax cap

Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe released his proposed $10.46 million 2014-2015 budget, which he said stays under the state-mandated tax cap – with hardly any room to budge.

Keefe outlined his budget at Monday’s Fredonia Village Board meeting and proposed a tax increase of 71 cents per thousand dollars of taxable assessed value. Village Administrator Richard St. George previously calculated the cap at the same amount, 71 cents (2.11 percent).

This proposal would raise Fredonia’s tax rate from $33.58 to $34.29.

“I’d like to apologize to every department head in the village for what turned out to be a hard-pressed budget, and I apologize for the cuts that were made, but those cuts were necessary to make it within the tax cap,” Keefe said. “With this (tax) increase, our expenses exceed revenues resulting in a fund operating loss of $300,500. 36.1 percent of unreserved fund balance is consumed to balance the budget.”

Keefe is calling for no change in the water rate per thousand gallons (which stands at $2.92) and the sewer rate per thousand gallons rate. Due to projected budget shortfalls in both the water and sewer funds, unreserved fund balances of 25.5 percent and 64.7 percent, respectively, in each account will be used to offset the differences and keep rates steady. The minimum sewer rate, however, is budgeted to increase $10 each quarter.

“Inflow and infiltration, along with deteriorating conditions, have led to additional expenses at the wastewater treatment plant and connecting infrastructure,” Keefe said.

Health insurance costs should increase by 15 percent. Pension costs for the Employee Retirement System will remain steady, while Police and Fire Retirement System costs may increase by $23,000 (4.9 percent). Keefe said this is due to personnel additions to staff a new emergenct transport service, which will start collecting revenues from transport of individuals in medical emergency situations.

“We’re transporting patients already without any payment, and that number is increasing on a regular basis,” Keefe explained. “We need to go into the chargeback system for that ambulance transportation since 75 percent of our fire department calls are for emergency care; that’s why I’m recommending we use emergency technicians rather than additional firemen to do this.”

Various cost-saving measures, Keefe said, have been implemented to help offset cost increases and revenue decreases (e.g. $38,100 tax decrease from four companies that had their properties re-evaluated).

This includes replacing two full-time department heads with part-timers; implementing an energy performance contract project for improvements at the wastewater treatment plant with guaranteed energy savings; and agreeing to an energy curtailment/demand response contract to generate revenue.

Part-time police officers and part-time firefighters do not have wage increases in Keefe’s budget.

The streets department has budgeted 6,000 hours for seasonal employees, all at minimum wage.

Fire department hours are budgeted at 48 hours per week, the same as this year.

Fire personnel may be paid overtime after 53 hours.

No staffing cuts are incurred in Keefe’s budget.

“The major hurdle here is not being able to do the things that we really need to do,” Mayor Keefe added. “There’s infrastructure work and so many projects that need to be done, especially with the rough winter. It would be nice if we had a project each year to redo a complete street … and that’s where our reserves could come in, but our reserves are being burned up to steady taxes.”

A public hearing on the tentative budget will be held Monday at 7:30 p.m. in the Trustees Room of the village hall.

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