Oct 25, 2012 Ned Campbell Uncategorized
The Manlius Town Board proposed a $12.93 million preliminary budget for 2013 that calls for a 2-percent tax rate increase at Wednesday night’s regular board meeting. The proposed budget for 2013 is up 4.74 percent from 2012.
Councilor Nick Marzola said the town was faced with rising New York State retirement costs, which increased $238,000, or 26 percent, from last year, as well as rising health insurance costs, up $121,000, or 10 percent, from 2012. The town took $955,000 from the unexpended fund balance in order to help breach the budget gap caused by rising costs amid a relatively flat tax base.
“The biggest mandate that we’re confronted with that we have no control over is retirement,” Marzola said. “Employees certainly deserve a retirement benefit. The concern with all municipalities is the cost of this retirement benefit.”
He said the town is putting about $1.16 million toward retirement, or 9 percent of its total budget, “and that’s a significant, significant number from an employee benefits perspective.”
He noted that the $238,000 increase in pension costs equates to about 1.9 percent of the town’s entire operating budget.
“The increase of one item is basically our 2-percent tax rate increase,” he said. “It’s a very difficult place to start from.”
The 2 percent tax rate increase does not refer to the property tax levy increase, which is limited to two percent — or the rate of inflation, whichever is less — for the second year by Gov. Cuomo’s property tax cap. Marzola said those numbers will be presented at the Nov. 14 town board meeting, when the board plans to vote on the budget.
The town board voted to override Cuomo’s tax cap at its Sept. 26 meeting, but Supervisor Ed Theobald said the board does not intend to exceed the 2 percent limit. He said overriding the tax cap was a precautionary measure to avoid being fined by the state, should a state audit later find something that would put the town over the limit.
Marzola credited Highway Superintendent Rob Cushing for keeping his department’s budget increase to around $20,000, or .97-percent.
“Considering what’s going on there and the amount of sand and salt they use, I think that’s very positive,” he said. “And Rob needs to be complimented for how tightly he’s maintaining costs for all these residents while providing significant service.”
Supervisor Theobald said the town saved money by not entering a contract with Onondaga County last year that asked town highway departments to plow all county roads within town lines. As part of an initiative by County Executive Joanie Mahoney to encourage towns to plow more county roads, the county agreed to pay towns $6,335 per centerline mile to take over the job, a 7-percent increase from the previous year. Manlius was joined by four towns — Camillus, Otisco, Clay and DeWitt — in turning down the deal.
“It turns out we made money even though we didn’t go with the contract, because of the savings we had with the material, the salt and so on,” Theobald said, adding: “That’s one of the reasons we didn’t go with the contract with the county — because we knew it was not cost-effective for us last year.”
Mike McGrew, one of two town residents to speak at the budget hearing, was complimentary of the town board’s budget preparations and presentation, but critical of the low attendance by residents.
“The first thing I want to do is apologize to the board,” McGrew said. “Two. Two! How many people do we have in this … town? Thirty-thousand? Two people are interested enough to come and see what you’re spending $12 million on? Appalling. Absolutely appalling.”
He then commended the town board for doing a “super job” presenting the budget in a way that everyone could understand, before suggesting that the board make clearer the places in the budget where savings are being found.
“You have done some very good cost-cutting measures, but unfortunately you don’t show it,” he said. “You’ve made some changes, you’ve made some good changes. But you don’t show what you’ve cut out of entitlements by department.”
Resident Ken Wagner asked if there is anything that municipalities can do, similar to what is being done in the private sector, to separate from the state’s retirement process — for instance, moving to a 401K system that puts retirement options in the hands of employees.
“The risk — the swing — is huge,” he said. “What industry has done is [to say,] ‘We’ll sweeten up the 401K, it’s yours … you want to put it in bonds, you want to put it in gold, you want to put it in dirt, we don’t care.’ Is that something that the towns can explore? Or are there state regulations that prohibit it?”
“It’s the Constitution,” said Town Attorney Tim Frateschi. “Under the Constitution of the State of New York, there is a defined pension plan that the state allows all of its workers.”
But the Constitution focuses on not reducing people’s pensions, he said, meaning there is room for discussion when it comes to what pension plans employees receive.
“When you get your pension it cannot be reduced under the Constitution,” he said.” Going forward, there has been a great deal of discussion [by the mayor of Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany and Yonkers]. Everybody’s talking about pension reform, giving the localities the flexibility to create their own pension plans.”