NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- City Manager Charles B. Strome is calling for a 6.99% tax increase based on a 5.75% increase in the City's levy, far in excess of the 2.49 tax levy cap required by New York State. As a result, the City will be required to hold a Public Hearing on the budget and secure a super-majority vote on Council.
Strome and City Finance Commissioner Howard Ratner met with reporters on Friday at City Hall.
The three major changes highlighted by Strome was a reduction in sworn police officers to 158 through attrition, an effective reduction in manning levels for the fire department and an end to loose leaf pick up. The police department is down from over 180 officers three years ago, according to Strome. The fire department manning levels were 31 several years ago but since reduced to 27. Under the current budget the City will not pay overtime to add manpower on a given shift unless the manning level falls below 24 and will only then bring them level up to 24, not 27. As a result, Ladder 12 will likely be out of service on a recurring basis. Residents will be required to bag all leaves starting next year.
The cost savings to the City will be roughly $750,000: $250,000 by eliminating loose leave pick up, $200,000 through police officer attrition, and $300,000 through reduced overtime for firefighters.
Strome said he was not happy with the budget but blamed the State government for the decision to exceed the tax cap.
"They have provided no meaningful mandate relief," said Strome. "The system has set us up to fail."
Howard Ratner said the maximum amount of tax increase under the state tax levy cap is $1.2 mm. The bill presented to the City by the State for pension and health costs is $2.8 million, leaving a hole in the budget of $1.6 million.
Strome singled out United Water for criticism as well saying that charging the City, and thus property owners, $1mm for fire hydrants was unfair in a City where 30% of the property is owned by non-profit organizations including Iona College and the College of New Rochelle. Strome wants the cost of fire hydrants across the entire rate payer base, shifting the cost to all water users including non-profits.
While there will be some headcount reduction through attrition, there will be no layoffs this year.
"This is the minimal level of service I am comfortable with," said Strome. "There is no fat, no cushy areas in this budget."
Strome noted that over the past three years, there was been a reduction of 85 positions in the City government or about 13% of the total workforce.
Strome hinted at what he believes is the real driver of sky-high tax bills in New Rochelle.
"If we eliminate all City services that comes out to $3,000 out of a typical $18,000 tax bill".
The City's share of the overall tax bill is about 16.7%. About two-thirds of property taxes in New Rochelle go to the school district with the balance going to to the County government.
Official Statement on New Rochelle Proposed 2013 Budget
2013 Proposed Budget Released
New Rochelle City Manager Charles Strome III today released his proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2013. In the midst of the prolonged economic recession, the budget calls for a real estate tax levy increase of 5.57%, requiring an override of the State tax cap legislation, but preserves most of the services the City provides.
“Adopting a budget within the tax cap legislation produces a $1.5 million shortfall that can only be met with the type of programmatic and personnel cuts that I cannot recommend,” said Strome. “In a debilitated economic environment, we continue to be subject to State-imposed mandates for pension, health insurance and employee binding arbitration costs that are impossible to be funded under the parameters of the tax cap legislation.”
Many of the City’s historical major revenue sources, such as sales taxes, mortgage taxes, building permits and State aid, have been negatively impacted by economic conditions, necessitating greater reliance on the local property tax or other revenue sources, Strome noted. Under the tax cap legislation, the allowable increase to property taxes will not even cover the $1.75 million cost of State-imposed pension increases.
“The 5.57% increase to the tax levy equates to a tax rate increase of 6.99% because our tax base fell by another $3.6 million this past year,” added Strome. The proposed tax increase for the average homeowner is $206, or about one percent of the total tax bill.
The budget does not call for any employee layoffs but proposes to eliminate curbside loose-leaf pickup, cut police staffing by two vacant positions and reduce firefighter manning at certain times. All of these reductions were recommended in the recently issued report by the Citizen’s Panel on Sustainable Budgets.
“The City will continue to provide our extraordinary level of service to our citizens,” Strome concluded. “This budget proposes an appropriate blend of property tax increases and expenditure reductions that will carry us through these challenging economic times.”
Copies of the proposed budget are available in the City Clerk’s office, at the New Rochelle Public Library and on the City’s website http://www.newrochelleny.com/2013proposedbudget. The City Council will conduct budget review meetings in November and hold a public hearing on December 4th in advance of the adoption of a tax rate in December.