15 Sep 2014
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New Rochelle Council Hears Budget Concerns

The city held two public hearings related to the proposed 2013 budget.

New Rochelle Council Hears Budget Concerns

The New Rochelle City Council continued discussing the City Manager's proposed 2013 budget as some residents decried cuts to the fire department and leaf collection.

The proposed budget calls for a tax levy increase of 5.57 percent, well above the state tax cap allowable for the city of 2.49 percent.

Total spending in the proposed budget is $153,551,034, an increase of $5,110,249 from the revised 2012 budget.

The proposed budget saves about $750,000 by cutting $300,000 in fire department overtime, $200,000 in police-force reduction by attrition and $250,000 by requiring residents to bag leaves for collection in the fall.

If approved as presented, the City Council would have to override the state's tax cap with a supermajority of five votes by passing a local law that was the subject of a public hearing Tuesday.

New Rochelle resident James O'Toole said the tax cap law makes it nearly impossible for the city to do business.

"Every city I read about is probably going over it," he said.

A public hearing was held on the proposed budget Tuesday as well with leaf collection and fire-department staffing foremost on people's minds.

John Lozito of New Rochelle said the elimination of leaf collection was a big concern for him.

"To put the expectation on the citizens that we can do it better than the city is ridiculous," he said.

In a post-public hearing discussion of suggested amendments to the proposed budget, Councilmen Barry Fertel, D-District 5, and Louis Trangucci, R-District 1, wanted to restore curbside leaf pickup at a cost of $250,000.

Fertel said, while he would be happy to pay his gardner to remove the leaves, he needed to divorce his personal circumstances from public policy.

"As a policy, this doesn't make economic sense," he said, adding that it was estimated by the finance commissioner that the additional cost to taxpayers would be $7 to $10 on their tax bills. Estimates for private landscapers ranged from $75 to $175.

"This is one of those perfect examples where the government can do this more effectively and better," Fertel said. "I strongly believe we should not take away this service."

Several people spoke passionately about the proposed staffing reduction in the fire department, from 27 fire fighters on duty at any given time to 24. There was a brief demonstration by fire fighters showing the council how many men are utilized in New York City compared to New Rochelle.

"We are expected to do the same job with approximately half the guys," said Byron Gray, a fire fighter and president of the New Rochelle Uniformed Fire Fighters.

"The proposed reduction to our staffing is not in the best interest of our ability to perform our duties to adequately protect the citizens of New Rochelle or her fire fighters," he said.

Councilwoman Shari Rackman, D-District 6, and Trangucci both want the overtime in the amount of $300,000 for the additional fire fighters restored to the budget.

Rackman said the force does a "phenomenal job" protecting the city with the current staffing level of 27 and the manpower shouldn't be cut.

"I'm not wiling to take that risk," she said.

Councilman Ivar Hyden, D-District 4, offered three amendments that would increase the city's ability to market itself and thus increase tax revenue.

The total amount was $385,000.

"If we don't spend money, we won't make money," Hyden said. "I firmly believe this is the right thing to do for the long-term future," though he said it probably wasn't the best time to do this.

Councilman Jared Rice, D-District 3, suggested that the city fund a study of the fire department as suggested by the citizens tax panel in the amount of $175,000.

He said the issues involved are too complex for the study to be done in house.

Trangucci also offered amendments that would reduce the capital funds for vehicles by $300,000; reduce incentives for matching funds for community projects by $35,000; reduce inter-governmental advocacy lobbying efforts by $50,000; eliminate matching funds for grants in the amount of $50,000; eliminate the sanitation study, $75,000; eliminate the development consultant who analyzes deal structures, $50,000; and eliminate the proposed deputy commissioner for public works, $93,750 plus benefits.

The City Council will discuss these amendments at its next meeting Tuesday, Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. The council may change the meeting time to allow for more discussion.

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