SEA CLIFF VILLAGE BOARD MEETING AND BUDGET HEARING, 4.18.17
April 25, 2017 -- On Tuesday April 18, the Sea Cliff Village Board held a public hearing for the Village’s 2017-18 budget. The $5,855,457 spending plan represents a 2.6% increase over the current year. The tax levy will rise by 2.38% - below the New York State imposed tax levy limit by just over 12,000.
In his budget presentation at the start of the meeting, Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy, offered an overview of the spending plan.
The budget lines with the greatest increase are for “General Government,” up 4% or $76,000, and the Department of Public Works, up 3.54% or $59,000 ($50,000 of which is the result of a new collective bargaining agreement). “Public Safety,” which includes the Fire Department Budget, is up 7% or $58,000, with most of that amount designated for the recently created full time building inspector position. "Funded Projects” are up $29,000 or 27%, with $15,000 of that added at the meeting for maintenance of the Firehouse doors.
Both debt service and “Executive Department” costs are anticipated to be lower next year.
Generating the most discussion, however, was the library’s share of the pie, which in percentage terms has diminished over the last few years, with its allocation of $300,000 for operating expenses remaining flat over that time, with other departments having shown increases. At the start of the budget process, the library had asked for a $5,000 increase.
President of the fundraising organization Friends of Sea Cliff Library, Carol Poll, read a statement questioning the rejection of the request.
“We know how important the library is to this community,” she said. “Why has the budget been flat?”
Trustee Kevin McGilloway, who serves as the Board’s liaison to the Library, replied that the Friends of the Sea Cliff Library “is a fabulous group raising funds to fill in missing pieces.”
He continued that there was “no specific item the $5,000 was earmarked for.”
“They do a great job,” he said of the library, “and none of the services are being restricted.”
Mayor Ed Lieberman said the the Library has reserve funds of more than $100,000
Another resident then spoke and said that those funds are for planning for the future.
“They do such a good job,” Trustee McGilloway said. “I’ve never heard, ‘if only we had money to do this. . . .”
“When the Library has a need,” added Trustee Robyn Maynard, “there seems to be people who are willing to donate.”
Library Director Arlene Nevens then addressed the board. She said the reserves are for future expenses. For instance, the "Tech Fund," she explained, is for purchasing computers and software.
“Yes, we’ve been rolling along,” she continued, but expressed concerns about the fund balance, of which she said the library has had to use $15,000 to make ends meet. “Sooner or later the fund balance is going to to disappear.”
She continued that the funds raised by Friends of Sea Cliff Library go towards operating expenses and that she does not know of any library where that is the case. “Typically, they [fundraising groups] pay for the goodies,” she said. “Sooner or later it is going to catch up to us - living on reserve funds.”
Compared to other municipal libraries, Ms. Nevens explained that the proportion of the library’s budget that is funded by the Village as a percentage of overall library spending is in the mid 80s whereas in other municipalities it is more typically in the 90s.
Trustee McGilloway said that “rather than relative to others, we should look at relative to need." Unlike other libraries, he continued "we have additional funding sources.”
A Maple Avenue resident said it appeared that the library was being penalized for operating efficiently and responsibly, and that they should get a boost in their allocation.
Village Clerk Marianne Lennon said that for at least five years the unreserved fund balance for the library has not gone down by more than $5,000.
As for other issues raised by residents, former Mayor Claudia Moyne asked whether there was money within the budget to continue the lawsuit against the City of Glen Cove over the Garvies Point Waterfront Redevelopment project.
Mayor Ed Lieberman said that funds have been set aside for “perfecting the appeal,” and that the Village Board would continue to pursue litigation in an effort to stop the project.
On the revenue side of the budget, although the tax levy is rising by just over 2%, within the tax cap established by New York State, residents will on average see a greater increase in their taxes because of a New York State mandated change in the base proportions. Currently, in Sea Cliff Village, 78.7255% of the tax levy is paid by residential homeowners while 21.2745% is paid by commercial property owners and utilities. That will shift by 1.35% next year, with 80.0738% of the burden being taken on by homeowners, and the remaining 19.9262 by non-residential property owners.
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April 24, 2017 -- Sea Cliff officials are pondering a Village-wide reassessment of properties to address inequities in assessed values that have developed since the last reassessment 15 years ago, village officials said at last Monday's budget hearing.
The issue came up when resident Janet Heurtley, noting the $109,000 in the budget that is designated for assessments, asked whether it was advantageous for the village to take on the cost of doing its own valuations and defending them against challenges when it could just rely on the County’s assessment rolls.
Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy replied that the county does a “horrible job" of assessing properties pointing out the great disparities in assessed values between comparable properties as well as between actual market value and assessed value.
Later, resident Dan Maddock, who had served as Village assessor a number of years ago, said that historically, the rationale for a village like Sea Cliff to assess its own properties is that local officials would have a better understanding of local conditions and how that could affect value.
“Is there a way to assess the assessment system?” Resident Liz Baron later asked.
Mr. Kennedy said that the low success rate for challenges to Village assessments indicates that the Village's numbers accurately reflect fair market value. He contrasted that with County assessments which for a majority of properties are significantly lower than their actual market value, usually as a result of the County’s tax grievance system, which usually results in lower assessments for those who initiate challenges regardless of whether the grievance is justified.
Ms. Baron, replied that may or may not indicate the assessments are equitable, depending on how many people pursued their appeals. She wondered if there were other "metrics" that could be used.
Mr. Kennedy said that New York State is putting pressure on the village to reassess all of its properties.
More expensive properties, he said, have increased in value at a much faster pace than more moderately priced ones, skewing the assessments so that those that were purchased many years ago are assessed at a much lower amount than their market value.
In general, properties that have not been sold for many years will have a lower assessment than those sold more recently, simply because increases in assessed value have risen at a much slower rate than actual market value.
If the Village does not conduct a revaluation of its properties, which would have to be done by an outside firm, Mr. Kennedy explained, the state has threatened to apply a ratio to the current assessments on village properties, which would raise all properties assessed value by the same percent.
The valuation on properties that are currently under-assessed would be raised closer to their actual market value, Mr. Kennedy later explained to Northwordnews, while those that are currently accurately assessed, would be over-valued. Those residents, assuming they grieve their assessments, would then be likely to win the challenge since recent sales of comparable properties would show that they have been over-assessed.
Their property’s assessed valuation would then be reduced to fair market value.
That scenario, Mr. Kennedy explained, would create a significant burden for the village and its residents.
He said at the Tuesday budget meeting that the board of Trustees would be considering whether to have an outside firm re-assess all of the village’s properties which would forestall the state’s action. That revaluation would cost about $180,000 and be funded through the village’s capital budget.
Mr. Kennedy explained in his interview with Northwordnews, that some are concerned that if the Village’s properties are re-assessed, that that could impact their assessments on the County tax rolls leading to Sea Cliff residents having to take on a greater share of paying the school tax levy than those in other areas of the school district that are not within the Village.
However, currently, there are two separate assessments on the properties of village residents - one county and one village - and almost never do they match.
A reassessment of properties would not impact the overall amount the Village is able to collect in taxes. It would simply re-apportion the pie, with some residents seeing their contribution diminished while others would see an an increase, and still others would see virtually no change.
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VILLAGE POISED TO PURCHASE ALTAMONT AVENUE PROPERTY
April 24, 2017 -- The Village Board continued its discussions concerning its interest in purchasing a property just west of the Department of Public Works yard on Altamont Avenue.
Appraised at $355,000, Village Administrator Bruce Kennedy stated that the property would provide more space for DPW operations and equipment.
The house on the property would be demolished. The Village also owns the lot to the west of the house.
Trustee Kevin McGilloway stated that there is a strategic value to owning the property, and that it would remove potential liability issues with having a home adjacent to the village yard.
Trustee Robyn Maynard said having a contiguous property “expands opportunities for the Village,” whether it is for DPW or another purpose.
Trustee Dina Epstein said that it made sense to have a contiguous property, and that if it chose to, the Village could sell the other lot it owns that sits west of the property.
Trustee Deb McDermott urged her colleagues to move slowly and said that she believed it was important to know what the Village would be using the property for before making the purchase. She pressed Mr. Kennedy on what the additional space was needed for.
Mr. Kennedy said that acquiring the lot would ease the crampedness on that side of the property and the yard overall, whether it was to give employees a place to park or to better access the DPW Quonset hut where salt and sand is stored. Additionally, he said that the Village could seek permission from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to dispose of leaves in the rear of the property, which would save the village money. Currently, the Village pays the Municipal Solid Waste rate of 70-$80 per ton to dispose of leaves.
A precedent had been set for purchases of this type in the early 2000’s, Mr. Kennedy continued, when the Village bought a property in between Sea Cliff Yacht Club and Sea Cliff Beach. The house there was subsequently demolished to expand the beach parking lot and to create space for the kayak and canoe racks.
Trustee McDermott asked if any environmental testing had been done on the Altamont property.
Mr. Kennedy replied that soil testing had been done on the Village's lot west of the property in 2004 and that some compounds had been found.
Dan Maddock who was sitting in the audience, and had been on the Village Board at that time, said that levels of ash had been found two to three feet below the surface, and that its soil would have to be remediated only if a building were to be constructed there.
The purchase of the $355,000 property along with the cost of demolition and other expenses related to borrowing would require the Village to borrow about $375,000 which at current interest rates and paid over 20 years would result in about $20,000 in annual debt service, costing the average taxpayer about $15 per year, Mr. Kennedy said.
Trustee Maynard said that the Village's future needs are unknown, and that buying the property is something that the village should pursue, especially with the possibility of the next owner not being willing to sell it for a long period of time.
“We’d be doing this more from a strategic point of view,” said Trustee McGilloway.
Trustee McDermott expressed concern that Altamont residents were not there to weigh in.
“It impacts people living across the street,” she said. “If that were my house, I would be upset.”
Mr. Kennedy said that with the Village owning it would ensure that it would be well maintained. Also, he said that there is the possibility that if the village did not purchase it, it could be bought by someone who would seek a variance to allow for a commercial use, which could potentially be worse for neighbors.
Mayor Lieberman said that letters could be sent out to residents living within a 200 foot radius inviting them to a meeting that would be open to the entire community. The board agreed to hold such a meeting on May 9.
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