Mayor's Newsletter - 4/14/2013
- Published on 16 April 2013
Dobbs Ferry is a great place to live all-year-round, but there is always something special about the onset of spring to makes us all feel really lucky to live where we do; the breeze now warms us coming off our beautiful Hudson River shore, the trees in our parks will soon be turning green, and kids and families are getting outside to enjoy the offerings of the new season. It’s a great time of year, especially in Dobbs Ferry where there are a lot of exciting things happening to get caught-up on.
This time of the year is also when we update you on the Village’s budget process; while this is a year-round effort of the administration, staff, and board, we are particularly focused on this important function as the village moves to finalize the fiscal 2013-2014 final budget.
Fiscal 2013-2014 Tentative Village Budget
The Fiscal 2013-2014 Tentative Budget has been submitted by the Budget Officer and a presentation was made at this week’s regular meeting of the Board of Trustees on April 9; a Special Public Budget Workshop was also held on April 1 with the Department Heads, the Treasury Department, and the Trustees. Beyond these public hearings and reports, there is work done on the budget almost every working day of the year.
The Tentative Budget presented recommends a tax levy increase of 1.05%, which if adopted will equate to a tax rate increase of 2.99%.
The levy is the actual amount of dollars to be used to provide services and operate the village for the upcoming fiscal year. The proposed tax rate ($ 228.14 per $1,000 of assessed value) reflects an outstanding job being done by the village’s Administrator, Treasury Department, Department Heads and Staff to find ways to provide services more efficiently. In addition, the strong commitment made 3 years ago to improve the village’s fiscal planning and review process has had a very positive impact on keeping tax rates down in a negative fiscal environment. The combined efforts have helped offset a significant trend of lower tax assessment rolls due to the record high number of certiorari and grievance awards the past several years – this is comparable to a company losing revenues. The village budget has also been negatively impacted by the amount of additional monies the village is required to contribute to rising employee health care costs and the NY State Pension Fund System; these items especially have been a negative push on tax rates for the past 3 years and will continue to be the case into the foreseeable future. The retirement mandates are required of all municipalities to fund the returns which are guaranteed under the state’s public employee contracts.
Impact of Tentative 2013 – 2014 Tax Rate
Below is a TABLE showing the impact of the tentative tax rate on a property owner’s tax bill*
*These are estimates based on Tentative Budget submitted; subject to change depending on Final Budget adopted and/or changes to final Tax Assessment Role.
How much is the village tax as a percentage of the total property tax?
It is always a good reminder to present a clear picture of how much the village tax is as a portion of the total property taxes paid. The village tax portion is approximately 21% of the total property tax bill that you pay as a resident of Dobbs Ferry. On a percentage basis, your total property tax bill breaks down roughly as follows:
Village Tax: 21%
School District Tax: 66%
Town Tax: 1%
County Tax: 12%
TOTAL TAX 100%
The following PIE CHART provides a visual perspective showing the property owner’s total tax bill:
Each of the 4 tax entities are managed and overseen separately by different boards. Our responsibility as the Board of Trustees of the Village is to oversee the operations and services that are provided by the Village, and the resulting tax rate based on the cost of delivering those services.
Major impacts on the Tentative Budget
We will provide more detail on the factors making up the final budget once it is approved, but here are the 2 major items that have the biggest impact:
- Lower assessment roles – The village’s total assessment role (or taxable value) fell again for the 6th consecutive year. While assessments did not fall as much as the previous 2 years, and the sheer number of grievances awards dropped from the peak, the village has nevertheless suffered a significant loss in property tax revenues since the assessment rolls peaked in 2005. This picture is comparable to a company that is experiencing a continuing loss in revenues. Here is a historical GRAPH of the village’s assessment roles:
- Increasing health care costs and mandated contributions to retirement accounts – The costs to provide health care for workers continues to skyrocket. While the village was able to save significant insurance premiums a few years ago by switching its health care provider, those savings have now been realized with the increases over the years since. In addition, all NY municipalities are mandated to make ever increasing contributions to the NY State Pension Fund system in order to support the guaranteed rate of return offered by the state mandated program. Employee benefit costs make up the highest single cost of the village budget – exceeding 35% - and we project them to rise with little-to-no relief for the foreseeable future. Here is a historical BAR GRAPH of the village's annual contribution to worker's retirement and insurance accounts.
The Good News … a low increase in the tax rate and a healthy Fund Balance
Along with a relatively low tax rate increase, the village has also been able to maintain a healthy Fund Balance, which is the Village’s reserve savings account. 3 years ago the board adopted a strict Fund Balance Policy; the policy sets-out a simple approach to determine appropriate reserve levels based on the financial condition and results of the village. Since then and going forward, the village does not rely on the Fund Balance to 'balance' the budget or to keep tax rates artificially low; excess levels are directed to reduce long-term debt. A balanced budget is accomplished with good planning and long-term solutions to lower operating costs, and a properly sized reserve account based on the village’s requirements and balance sheet. Here is a historical GRAPH of the village’s Fund Balance, noting the steady and smooth level of reserve funds in balance the past few years.
In lieu of the challenging fiscal environment and negative factors outside of the village’s control, tax payers of Dobbs Ferry should feel very good about the hard work and planning being done to successfully keep Dobbs Ferry’s tax rates consistently low. Essential services must be delivered in more efficient ways to reduce the tax burden and support property values; long term planning has been critical to maintain a healthy balance sheet and reserve funds for a sustainable future. Dobbs Ferry is doing this.
We would like to recognize Village Administrator Marcus Serrano for the work and preparation on the budget, as well Interim Treasurer Patrick Dougherty; also the contributions of the ad hoc Citizens Budget Committee, a group of volunteers working positively with the village to help find ideas that can save the village money. Finally, to all the Department Heads and the Village Staff who are dedicated and work so hard to deliver services to the residents.
Next Steps in the Budget Process
The Public Hearing on the Tentative Budget will be re-opened at the next regular meeting of the BOT on April 23, at which it is expected the board will adopt the Final Fiscal 2013-2014 Village Budget. By law, the Final Budget must be adopted by May 1. The presentation on the tentative budget will be posted on the village’s website and we encourage residents to review this information; and to attend these meetings to observe and learn first-hand about the village’s budget process, and provide input. A Special Newsletter Report will be issued immediately following the adoption of the final fiscal 2013-2014 budget with more details, including specifics on expenditures, revenues, initiatives, and priorities.
Waterfront Park Stabilization and Renovation Project
Now that the weather has (finally) turned, work has commenced on the seawall at the southern end of the park; as was communicated in the recent newsletters, this portion of the stabilization phase of the project has been challenging to complete. Submerged debris made it difficult (at times impossible) to place or secure the seawall material; however, the engineers and contractors have worked out a plan which will lead to the completion of the stabilization phase of the waterfront project over the next 1-2 months. At the same time, the County design team is close to issuing the RFP for the upland improvement phase of the project, which includes new pathways, lighting, a new playground, and a new comfort station; in addition, there will be a new boat dock extending from Willow Point as well a new fishing pier extending from the northern portion of the park. The village expects this work to begin early this summer. Due to the construction delays related to the seawall, the village has informed the school district that the waterfront park is available for this year’s graduation ceremony. The village will do all it can to make the area as nice as possible given the construction work which has been going on and in progress. Once the upland work moves into full activity this summer, the village will keep everyone posted as to progress and scheduling going forward. It is anticipated the upland work will take approximately 18 months from start to completion.
Little White Church Cemetery
This is another exciting village project that will restart now that the weather is warming up; the next step will be clearing of the remaining invasive ground cover and an application by the professional landscaper to keep it from coming back. Following this will begin the work of repairing and re-locating many of the headstones which have been re-arranged and/or damaged over many decades of neglect. You might have noticed recently many small red flag-markers which have been placed through-out the cemetery; this is the result of a scout project and resident volunteers who have used old maps and records along with modern surveying techniques to mark many of the original burial spots; to the extent reasonably possible, village workers and volunteers will place as many headstones as possible back in their original locations, or close. Many headstones have been damaged and/or worn down over the years as to be unrecognizable; but every effort will be made to place as many as possible. Every marker is meaningful, some of which memorialize early descendants of current Dobbs Ferry families; and there is an officer from the Civil War. In addition to the thoughtful work on the headstones, the entire property will be smoothed and leveled, new grass will be planted, as will new native trees. The column entrances will be re-pointed, and a new rail fence will be installed along the top of the historical stone wall along Ashford Avenue. A new entrance and pathway will lead visitors and residents to a simple memorial into the north east corner of the property, which will be partly funded by a donation from Stop & Shop. In the end, we will have a beautiful new green space, a quite place of historical significance, which every member of our community can enjoy and be proud of. No tax dollars are being used for this project; funding is entirely from contributions and the village’s segregated recreation account, which is funded by new development. A re-dedication ceremony has been targeted for early July. We will keep everyone posted on progress. If you would like to volunteer in the clean-up work to be done please contact us.
There has been a lot of progress made on this new building in the village’s downtown 'Gateway' business district. The detail work of the exterior brick is certainly coming together, which will compliment the Professional Building directly across the street, as well the Telephone Building to the east. This building is not going to look like a normal retail building. Instead, it is a serious structure which has been designed in strict conformance to the village’s new Vision Plan and Zoning Code specifically for the downtown area, emphasizing ‘streetscape’ design and a transformation of the 'Gateway' which the community can be more proud of. When opened, this business will present new shopping alternatives to residents, it will bring new business dollars into the village benefiting all of the local merchants, and it will help to sustain a stronger property tax base for the village's long term future. The new Stop & Shop and Walgreens Building are transforming Dobbs Ferry's business district in a positive way.
Since completing the SEQRA process in January, the mixed use development project has been before the village’s Planning Board and the Architectural & Historical Review Board; these statutory boards are conducting review mandated under the village code. At its most recent meeting this week, the Planning Board unanimously approved preliminary sub-division and affirmed the Board of Trustees Positive Findings Statement. As these boards continue their review work the village will keep everyone posted. We encourage residents and interested parties to attend these public hearings to learn more about this project and to have input. Recommendations from these boards will eventually be made to the Board of Trustees, who have ultimate authority on final Site Plan approval.
Livingston Hose Fire Company celebrates 125 Years
This year the Livingston Hose Fire Company celebrates its 125th year, which is a very big deal. Dobbs Ferry is lucky to have so many residents who contribute to civil service and volunteer their time. There is no better example of this rich tradition then in the village's volunteer fire departments. The village thanks all the volunteer members of the Dobbs Ferry Fire Department who dedicate their time helping to keep all the residents safe, no matter the hour, day or night. Thank you.
Dobbs Ferry 4th Annual Clean-up Day - Sunday April 14th
Dobbs Ferry's 4th annual Clean-up Day will take place next Sunday, April 21st. Locations include the waterfront park, the high school, Gould Park, and other areas around the village . This event has been a great success and a nice way for kids, parents, and everyone to work together to help clean-up our local environment - and a fun way to give-back to the community. Last year's event drew a record number of participants, which was great to see because it really makes a positive difference. For more information on this event and how to get involved, please call the village's Recreation Department at 693- 0024
Dobbs Ferry 9th Annual Senior Citizen Week - May 13th - 17th
Seniors should mark their calendars for May 13th-17th for a week- long celebration of fitness and fun at the Embassy Community Center. All lunches and classes are free for the whole week! Come out and experience all the wonderful things the Dobbs Ferry Senior Program has to offer. For more information call 693-7792. (If you know a senior that might not have access to e-mail, etc. please pass this message along - thank you!)
Dobbs Ferry Summer Camp sign-up
The Dobbs Ferry Recreation Department has a full slate of Summer Camp activities for all ages. For information on programs and how to sign-up, please call the department at 693-0024 or visit the offices at the Community Embassy Center on 60 Palisade Street.
Dobbs Ferry Recreation
After much review, the Villages of Dobbs Ferry and Hastings will not share a Recreation Supervisory position. Hastings has decided to go in another direction, which we respect. Nevertheless, we will continue to work with Hastings and our other good neighbors for ways to share services - adding to how the villages collectively work together now - to take advantage of extra capacity and overlaps where it makes sense, and to save tax payer dollars and improve programs. These initiatives help each of us have a more sustainable future while protecting the unique qualities we hold dear to our communities.
Well, that’s it for now. As usual, we do want to hear from you if you have any issues or concerns or ideas or if you want to get involved. Our e-mail addresses are on the village website. We will get back to you.
Mayor, Village of Dobbs Ferry
April 14, 2013