AT A REGULAR MEETING OF THE TOWN BOARD OF THE TOWN OF NISKAYUNA DULY CALLED AND HELD ON THE 21ST DAY OF OCTOBER, 2003, AT THE NISKAYUNA TOWN OFFICE BUILDING, ONE NISKAYUNA CIRCLE, NISKAYUNA, NEW YORK, THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS WERE PRESENT:
LIZ ORZEL KASPER, COUNCILWOMAN
WILLIAM R. CHAPMAN, COUNCILMAN
RICHARD A. HOLT, COUNCILMAN
DIANE P. O’DONNELL, COUNCILWOMAN
LUKE J. SMITH, SUPERVISOR
Others present: Helen Kopke, Town Clerk; Eric Dickson, Town Attorney; Paul Sebesta, Comptroller; Frank Gavin, Superintendent of Highways; Richard Pollock, Superintendent of Water & Sewer; Kathy Matern, Town Planner; and John Lubrant, Police Lieut.
Public Hearing No. 1 presented the Preliminary Budget and Special Districts Budget for the Town for 2004.
Supervisor Smith outlined the budget preparation process and the excellent job done by our Comptroller Paul Sebesta who helps the Supervisor develop the Tentative Budget. The Town Board reviews this budget to come up the Preliminary Budget that is presented to the public tonight.
Total appropriations for General and Highway Funds is $10,505,317 that represents an increase of $810,798 over the 2003 budget. The issue that drove this increase is the State Retirement System and cost of employee benefits, which have increased $426,496 for 2004. Based on the fact that every $41,000 in the budget represents a 1% increase in our tax rate, this increase alone could represent a 10% tax increase. The Preliminary Budget presented represents a 5.5% increase.
Another issue that is driving up spending is the $58,450 for health benefits that is increasing at an alarming rate. The administration of the health insurance industry is being questioned due to 15% increases over the last two or three years. If this continues to escalate the future of employee health benefits is in question. During the 1990’s, the Town created tiers for contributions towards health insurance. Future new hires may fall into yet another tier. Further contributions by Town employees may be required to keep costs down.
Another major increase has been for highways. $121,000 has been budgeted for additional highway costs for reconstruction alone. This does not include any additional new construction or paving of roads. This allows us to stay on our 20-25 year reconstruction cycle for all the roads in town. We have had an increase in roads, but we have also had a dramatic increase in cost for materials for road reconstruction. Asphalt is up 20%.
The annual retirement expense was flat from 1998 to 2002. Last year a 4.5% increase was projected, after which Towns were told it would increase by 11%. It has been capped at 4.5% of payroll for 2003 and for 2004 it will be about 12% of payroll. We have been informed that the Town will never pay less than 4.5% of payroll and if the stock market improves, the 11% will decrease.
Regarding where residents tax dollars go, Supervisor Smith pointed that the total taxes for an average home assessed at $135,000 in Niskayuna is $5,418. Before STAR $3,000 of this is for school taxes. The county tax portion is $1,400, the Town tax for General, Highway, Police, Water & Sewer for Sewer District No. 6 is $640, the Fire Department is $282 (for District 1).
Expenditures by function show that Police & Justice are 36% of the $640 Town taxes. Public Works, Water & Sewer, the Transfer Station, and Engineering is 14%; Parks & Recreation is 9%; Highway 25%; and Administration is 16%.
To even out a potential tax increase of 15-16%, the Town is using revenues, fund balance, and also bonding for equipment and projects that will increase the indebtedness in 2004. Although the Town’s legal debt limit is $80 million, the debt during 2004 will amount to $6.3 million. In previous years the Town has been on an aggressive schedule of paying down debt. With interest rates currently low it makes sense to borrow to pay for some long-term equipment.
The Water & Sewer budget of $4,942,840 shows an increase of $249,000 over 2003. Part of the Town gets water from the City of Schenectady with a projected increase of $700,000 to $800,000. The increase also includes retirement and health insurance costs.
To avoid “sticker shock” on tax increases, Supervisor Smith tries to manage the various funds and revenue through bonding (when it is prudent) to try and keep the tax rate stable. He could have used the fund balance or borrowed more but he did not feel this was prudent. Next year with retirement costs in the budget (there will be no gigantic increase) and if the stock market improves, the tax rate might even go down.
Ed Reilly, 870 Cunningham Court, expressed his concern with the lack of residents and political candidates hearing the budget presentation. Untrue comments had recently been made that the fund balance had been drawn down to “almost nothing.” The budget shows a fund balance from the last few years from $900,090 to $1.8 million. The current fund balance of $1.2 million will be back up to $1.7 million once we get final figures the first of next year. The fund balance is very healthy and it is not going down.
Other statements have been made about the tax rates. From 1988 through the present the compound tax rate has been about 2% per year over many years and this is a remarkable achievement. If one takes into account the equalization rate, Niskayuna has the lowest (not the highest) tax rate of the three large towns in our county that have a Police and Highway Department. We can’t be compared to Princetown and Duanesburg that are rural or Clifton Park who does not have their own Police Department. He thinks the Town is doing a very good job given economic conditions in the country. Our nation is experiencing the largest deficit in its history which forces things down onto the state level, which presses on our county, The fact that the Town is able to produce
a budget like this in these times is commendable.
Councilwoman Kasper expressed her disappointment at the lack of public participation in the Budget Public Hearing. It is sad that people aren’t in attendance to hear how their money is being spent.
When no other members of the public wished to be heard, the Supervisor closed the public hearing.
TOWN CLERK’S BUSINESS
The minutes of the meeting of October 7, 2003 were approved as presented.
PRIVILEGE OF THE FLOOR
Lincoln Sole, 1392 Rowe Road, stated that in the past few weeks the Town has been doing a good job of cleaning up the stream. There seems to be a problem, however, and he asked if there was a law against dumping of leaves or lawn clippings into the stream. Because this is a drainage easement and Town property, the Town will notify the resident that this area should not be dumped on.
Doug McFadden, 1388 Rowe Road, inquired about progress with Mohawk Golf Club and the drainage issue. Supervisor Smith will be writing to each of the residents on the petition that he has met with the President of the Mohawk Club and others. They have already cleaned up a pipe behind the Donnelly home. An investigation is being conducted whether there is an easement that would permit to work on this property. They have agreed to work with the Town to try and create a retention basin upstream. The things being done are having some effect, and the Supervisor has experienced cooperation from the Mohawk Club. Richard Pollock reported that they have taken off the flashboards that lowered the pond level in the three ponds and have opened up a plugged up
The following resolutions were approved with a vote of five ayes unless otherwise indicated.
Resolution 2003-217 accepts a utility easement from Ty Clute and Sandra McGeough for property located at 1225 Jason Lane.
Resolution 2003-218 accepts a utility easement from Katherine C. Claydon for property located at 3454 Consaul Road.
Resolution 2003-219 accepts a utility easement from Robert E. & Sandra M. James for property at 3450 Consaul Road.
Resolution 2003-220 authorizes the execution of an Outside Sewer User Agreement for Ty Clute and Sandra McGeough, owners of 1225 Jason Lane.
Resolution 2003-221 authorizes the execution of an Outside Sewer User Agreement for Katherine C. Claydon, of 3454 Consaul Road.
Resolution 2003-222 authorizes the execution of an Outside Sewer User Agreement for James and Sandra M. James of 3450 Consaul Road.
Resolution 2003-223 authorizes the purchase of an ISCO Model flow meter from Burgh Schoenenberger Associates at a cost not to exceed $4,000 to assist in the Town’s inflow and infiltration Program.
Resolution 2003-224 authorizes retaining Sterling Environmental Engineering to complete the ground water monitoring and soil sampling at the site of the former Niskayuna Landfill at a cost not to exceed $4,500.
Resolution 2003-225 authorizes the Supervisor to retain the services of Power Play Technologies at a total cost of $3,000 for the preparation of specifications for the upgrading of the pump station controls.
Resolution 2003-226 adopts the Annual Plan for 2003 for the operation of the Town of Niskayuna Section 8 Housing Assistance Payments Program.
Resolution 2003-227 authorizes the Supervisor to enter into an agreement with ING Employee Benefits to provide voluntary short-term and/or long-term disability insurance with optional universal life insurance coverage effective December 1, 2003.
Resolution 2003-228 employs additional persons in the Recreation Program.
Resolution 2003-229 calls for a public hearing for November 18 at 7 p.m. to consider amendment of Chapter 189, Article V, “Documents to be Submitted”. This amendment would provide a street tree planting plan as part of the preliminary subdivision application and requiring a showing of all street trees on the major subdivision plat.
There being no further business to come before the Town Board, Supervisor Smith adjourned the meeting
Helen F. Kopke, Town Clerk