Taxes Could Rise Under 2018 Town Budget

By on March 15, 2018

After three years of minimal increases to Verona’s tax levy and a flat tax rate, both will likely be increasing under Verona’s 2018 municipal budget. The Town Council held a workshop on what could be the 2018 budget on Monday, March 12, and disclosed that it could have a municipal tax levy of $16,475,923, up 3.72% from 2017, and a municipal tax rate of 0.8149, up 3.78% from 2017.

(The tax levy represents the amount that must be raised to fund the budget and the tax rate is what gets multiplied against the assessed value of your home to figure out your tax bill. An increase in the tax levy does not automatically mean that your taxes will rise; the complex interplay between tax levy, tax rate and assessed value is fairly well explained in this graphic from the New York state Department of Taxation and Finance.)

While increases probably won’t be good news in any Verona household, there was substantial good news to be found in the workshop. Verona’s revenue collections for 2017 exceeded budgeted amounts by approximately $170,000. There were savings on employee benefits and energy costs, and large number of retirements that were either filled by a much less costly new hire or not filled at all. There has been extensive cross-training in many departments, which has also reduced the need for overtime and new hires. Verona’s chief financial officer, Matt Laracy, noted that 40% of the people who were on the township payroll in 2013 have since retired. Our operating expenses, excluding debt service, dropped from $19.1 million to $18.4 million between 2014 and 2018.

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Since 2016, Verona has used a “zero-based” approach to each new budget. Instead of automatically tacking an increase onto the previous year’s spending to cover a perceived higher cost of government, the manager and Council have asked every department to build their budgets from zero.  The department managers who addressed the Council at the Monday workshop talked at length about how they did that for this year, with some openly surprised at the ways they have found to contain costs. The Town Council and Town Manager Matt Cavallo have also weaned Verona off its once substantial use of capital surplus as operating revenue, which Councilman Alex Roman has previously likened to using a home equity line of credit to pay for groceries.

But Verona’s expenses are going up from 2017 to 2018, principally because of the debt service on two major capital projects that we have taken on: the turf fields at the Hilltop ($6 million) and the library renovation ($4 million). In addition, the contracts for both the police and the municipal employees that are part of OPEIU expired in January 2017 and haven’t yet been settled. These employee groups are a major driver of municipal costs and, even though the town built estimated increases into the 2017 and 2018 budgets, there could be larger consequences. Police overtime exceeded expectations last year, which led to some tense exchanges during workshop.

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The budget will be introduced at the Council’s next regular meeting on Monday, March 19 and the Council hopes to have the public hearing and vote on the final version on April 16. (Verona has its budget review part-way into the budget year because Verona operates on a calendar year and the state runs on a July 1 fiscal year and we must wait for the state to get its budget in order before we finalize ours.) You can explore the 2018 budget in this PowerPoint or read the full budget here. Many of the prior year budgets can be found here. The full workshop, which was more than three hours long, is in the video below.

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