NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The City of New Rochelle released its proposed 2016 budget today. The $159,586,035 budget is based on a 0.82% real estate tax levy, the maximum allowed under New York State law.
"The proposed budget is a responsible financial plan that maintains existing levels of service, provides for an acceptable capital improvement program and preserves an adequate although not ideal rainy day fund," said New Rochelle City Manager Charles Strome III.
The New York State imposed tax cap calculation is applied to the tax levy not the tax rate.
"The 0.82% increase to the tax levy equates to a tax rate increase of 1.33% because our tax base fell another $1.3 million this past year," said Strome. The proposed tax increase for the average homeowner is $44, including a $12 increase in the refuse fee, the average increase will be $56 except for qualifying seniors who pay a lower refuse fee.
During a press conference at City Hall to announce the 2016 proposed budget, Strome said, in response to a question from Talk of the Sound, that he did consider breaking the tax cap but such a budget would require 5 votes on City Council and he did not believe there would be support for a budget that exceeded the tax levy cap. Strome's expressions of disdain for the New York State tax cap legislation has become something of annual ritual in New Rochelle. Strome has dismissed the tax cap as good politics but very poor public policy.
"The tax cap is unsustainable," said Strome.
Strome pointed to state mandated increase in health care premiums which were raised $1,100,000 which exceeds the entire increase allowable under the tax cap.
Total spending of $159,586,035 represents a decrease of $3,554,998 from the revised 2015 budget.
An improving economy has helped with a 2% increase in sales tax, up $1.3 mm from the Fiscal Year 2015 estimate. Low interest rates and a loosening of credit requirements has led to an increase in mortgage refinancing and home sales, leading to a $250,000 increase in mortgage tax revenue.
The controversial refuse fee accounts for about $6 million in the 2016 proposed budget. Asked by Talk of the Sound if he considered eliminating what had been initially approved as a temporary measure, Strome said the entire sanitation budget is funded by the refuse fee which is seeing an increase of $12 this year.
Personnel related costs account for 73% of the budget. Asked if there would be any increase in emergency responders Strome said there would be no increase in the number of police officers or firefighters. He pointed to some cost savings due to pension reform and the lower of cost of new hires into Tier 6 pension level. Strome said there has been an increase in the number of senior police officers leaving the police force, replaced by lower salaried new officers with lower pension obligations.
Strome announced that in December, he will present to City Council a Street Paving Report. A similar report was last prepared 15 years ago. In the report each street will be graded on a 0-100 scale and the City's road network will get an overall grade. Strome noted that the City has not spent local dollars on street paving in many years, relying instead on New York State CHIPs money -- about $1 million a year. Over the past year, the City spent an additional $2 million on street paving to pave primary roads like Pelham Road, Pinebrook Road and King's Highway. Strome would like to see more funds available street paving specifically and capital projects generally.