This week, the Council was presented with the task of going over the budget for the year 2020. The Mayor delivered us a budget that was quite lean in terms of tax increases (2.11%) which equates to approximately a .24 cent increase per thousand on your annual city taxes. Currently, the budget is in the hands of the council and we are going over it line by line to see if there can be any additional reductions with out cutting services. We have until November to come to a consensus on what the final budget will be.
I've been going around this weekend and placing election signs in lawns just to advertise the election more or less. I'm fortunate enough to not have an opponent this term and will gladly serve another 2 year term in the fourth ward.
The sale of Spaulding seems to be going ahead smoothly. As is the case with everything, there are many checks and balances that need to be done before the official contract is signed by both parties. This sale is a major component in keeping our taxes down this year. If this sale were to fall through, it will affect every single taxpayer in the city - potentially raising our taxes an additional 5-6 percent. The business that is going in there will have little to no effect on the residents who live adjacent to the land. It's a win-win for everyone.
Have you checked out the new candy shop on Main Street? I personally haven't been in yet, but my wife has and I've heard nothing but good reviews...I also heard a rumor they have some really "interesting" flavors of soda! I cant wait to head in and give it a whirl.
Please remember to get out and vote on the school district bond issue that is coming up this Tuesday...being in the schools daily, it is so needed and necessary for the upgrades and consolidation to happen in the district.
The council is doing a workshop on Tuesday for the budget, but be fore warned - I think we are going to spend some time in executive session which the public isn't allowed to attend. It shouldn't be for too long however, so feel free to come on down at 6.
The council will be meeting this Tuesday or our regularly scheduled monthly meeting beginning at 6 for the informal meeting and 7 for the formal.
We have a relatively light agenda this week and I have attached it below. I'd encourage everyone to come and hear what is going on and some of the great things that we have coming up for our city.
Last meeting the fire department came to us and described the need to replace the cardiac monitors that they carry to each call they go on. These monitors are used at each call and are an amazing piece of front line health care that get used and undoubtedly help to save lives for our residents. Like anything in the medical field these monitors come with a large price tag - about $20-$35,000 each and have a life span of anywhere between 5-10 years. To be clear, these monitors are used on every single call the fire department goes on and the monitors that they are currently using are at their end of life and need to be replaced. My only reservation in approving the purchase of these is the request for 4 of them. I feel the department can get by with 2 or 3 as each ambulance that also responds to the calls carries them. However, after actually talking with the fire department, and learning about how these are used, I'm fine with the spend. In hearing that we needed these monitors, Robin Schimminger's office alerted us that they were able to secure a Dormitory Grant to pay for these monitors for us! THIS IS AWESOME NEWS!
For transparency - a dormitory grant works in the following way - the city has to take a loan out for the total amount of the grant, and we will be reimbursed in total for the spend (aside from the interest on the bond). So we are essentially getting the $150,000 grant and the monitors for the cost of a couple hundred, maybe a thousand dollars in interest.
If you ask me any day of the week would I rather spend $1000 our tax money or $150,000 of it, that is a no brainer. Especially for an item that has the potential to save lives - I know for myself that if my family, friends or me ever needed this type of care, I'd be happy that we equipped our department with the best possible equipment out there.
Back to our agenda - we have a resolution that denouncing hate in our city as a response to the KKK flyers that were found on 3 lawns on main street a few weeks back.
We also have an agenda item for another block party - if you are interested in having one in your area please contact city hall and with the resolution, the resident is assured of getting the blockades to close off the street.
We are also going ahead with the rehabilitation of the pedestrian bridge in Tonawanda. This is an 80/20 split with the government for the funds.
We are also going ahead with improvements to Ives Pond and have awarded the job to the company listed in the agenda.
Thanks for checking back on this page. Over the last few days, I have distributed close to 400 fliers around the neighborhoods to give a quick update on the happenings in the 4th ward. My hope is to make it to each house in the ward between now and the fall.
To explain further what the flyer contains -
The council will be meeting on Tuesday this week - from 6-7 in the caucus room and at 7 in the court room for the formal meeting.
The agenda this week is lengthy and I'll do my best to give the highlights.
First: Our departments have done a fantastic job with overtime this year so far. Most are under their pace for last year which is always a great place to be in - it means the workers are healthy and departments staffed.
Councilmember Young and I will be going through the bills this week as well - we get monthly reports on how day to day spending is going in the departments and then authorize payment.
Resolution 3 is very long and involved so here's the quick and dirty of it - truck traffic will now be closed on Young Street to hopefully stop the semi's from hitting the CSX train bridge. In this resolution, the alternate routes have been listed. I'm hoping that this stops the problem, but you never know. Maybe we could do a Super Bowl like pool - 5 bucks a square, with months and dates - truck hits the bridge on your date you win the pool!
Resolution 4 is really important - May 29th is when residents can grieve their assessments to the board of assessment review. I'll follow up as to where and when residents can get appointments.
Special Event(s) - Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to hold their Tonawanda Great Strides Walk on Saturday, May 18, 2019 at 9:00 A.M.
National Hose Company and Union Hook & Ladder to hold their “Two Alarm” Music Festival event on Saturday, July 6, 2019, from 10:00 A.M. until 11:00 P.M.
Stephen C. Harrington Erie Canal Fishing Derby along the canal on Wednesday, July 3rd through Monday, July 15, 2019
Canal Fest. When the representative from CF came and met with us, I flippantly made the comment that with our budget problems, if the Canal Fest Corp, can't "make us budget neutral" the carnival isn't worth it to the city. Well, to our surprise, the CF Corporation upped the contribution they will make to the city and we stand to be reimbursed with an amount that is more realistic and will offset our overtime for that week. It is extremely generous of the CF Corporation to do this and the Fest will go on this year. My suspicions are that this will be the last year it is in Tonawanda due to the anticipated construction on closed section of Young St, so go enjoy it this year!
The council met last week and went over the Bonds that we are going to take out in the next year. Due to our budget situation, we did decide to make some cuts from the planned city maintenance for this year. We cut the street paving from $700,000 to about $400.000 dollars which is a reimbursement amount that we receive. We are purchasing a new DPW truck as the one that is on the road and is the daily workhorse for the dept is from 1985. The cost of that vehicle is $210,000. There is $130,000 for sidewalk repair, $31,000 for HVAC repair at the Fire Headquarters,
We also have this month to set the salaries for the positions of Treasurer and City Attorney. With the position of Treasurer changing we were able to save approximately $8000 per year.
I know ahead of time this will be a long post, so if you don't want to read it I'm going to make it a video tomorrow that you can listen to or watch.
Let's start this off with a little history of where we were and how we got to where we are now.
First let me explain what a tax levy is:
It is the tax put on homeowners for owning real estate. Almost every city enforces property taxes on residents, using the revenue to fund programs and services for the entire community.
The second part of this is the percent of taxes that is figured based on what the assessed value of your house is. So basically, it's a rate of tax, and that rate is then multiplied against how much your house is worth. This is super important, and is going to come back around in a few paragraphs.
Second, the city moved to doing assessments on all of the homes every four years so that we could better keep up how the prices of homes are moving. It gives a more accurate tax rate. As a for instance, I was told that the Town of Tonawanda hasn't done a re-assessment on the residents in quite a while. I was just researching their 2018 assessment values and for example purposes (this is representative of most properties) houses assessed at a taxable value of $48,200 have a full sale value of 135,000. That tells me a couple of things, one, the homes assessment values are too low, and two, when they do reassess the residents are going to be upset at a large increase in value because it will mean the amount of tax they will pay is more. Think of it this way - I could go out and buy a Ford Escort (my first car) and pay $1000 dollars for it with an 8% tax. That is a total of $1080 (yes, overpaying for the escort). If I go out and buy a $20000 car at the same tax rate I'm paying a ton more money even though the tax rate is the same, so that car costs me $21,600. Same tax rate, higher value to be taxed on. Now, imagine if you bought that 1000 escort and no one told you that it was going up in value and that you'd be taxed on the increased value some time in the future, but we are going to keep it a secret when that time is. That's what is happening in surrounding cities and in a few years those residents are going to get hit with a surprise. Here in Tonawanda, the reassessment takes place every 4 years so that the values of the property are more realistic and in line with what the true value of the property is.
Guess what happened this year? It is year 4 in the cycle and the city reassessed the properties. The good news is that your most expensive investment has increased in value. The bad news is that new value is what you get taxed on.
Now, over the past 4 years, the taxes have gone up in what I feel are an increasingly fast manner. Unsustainable. Previous councils have not held the line hard enough and we have had overspending in all departments when it comes to overtime. They did not do enough to stand up for the residents and take proactive measures to curb this overspending. It's funny that one of our greatest detractors (former member of the council) saw taxes increase nearly 40% in their limited time on the council and is now trying to overshadow their lack of action by lashing out at us. But I digress.
Another piece of the puzzle that led us to this is the (nationally) increasing cost of health care. In my job, over the last 4 years, our premiums have gone up more than 8 percent and will continue to go up over the length of our contract. I fully expect that by the time I retire that I will be paying 30-40 percent of my premiums and that will be considered amazing. In Tonawanda City terms, our self funded health care costs went up approximately 250,000 last year and that trend is expected to continue. Currently, we insure more retired workers than we have active workers, so we aren't just insuring the workers, but retirees as well. Thankfully, the city stopped paying lifetime health care many years ago, but we won't see the savings on that for a few years as those folks haven't retired yet. So, it is my hope that we can work with both retirees and current workers to come to an agreement that helps everyone reduce the health care burden. It's either that or lose workers at this point.
Contractual obligations (paying the city workers, fire, dpw, and police) is another part of our budget. During the budget advisory team meetings it was felt that we should try not to lay anyone off. We cut where we could (some were vetoed). I feel that we have lost sight as to the fact that we are a city and not an employment agency. We need to be much more responsible with how we use our labor force in this city and eliminate the glaring overlap that we have. Could we have made cuts? Certainly. But then we would have outrage in the community with fewer services. People would have been upset that grass is not cut at the river, or on public grounds. Garbage wouldn't be as great a service as it is. Large pick up? Not every week, nor would we have leaf pick up like we do. What if we lost firemen or police? It's easy to say reduce the workers but in reality, I don't think people want that...maybe they are okay with fewer police and fire but I haven't heard that as much as I've heard keep them.
We do have some great things on the horizon and I truly believe that we can turn things around. I'm hopeful, and promising to be as transparent as I can be with this entire process.