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.
I thought it was time to come back to this page today and begin to give updates in the "e" world as I haven't been doing so in a very long time. Below, you will see the budget statement that I made during our last meeting concerning the monetary state of the city. It's not good, but it's better to let all of you know the truth and stop hiding the reality of our situation.
It is my feeling that we are at a crossroads as a city. We have a lot of good going on, however, the problem I see is that for many of the proposed improvements, we just can't afford to continue with them. It is true, the council decided not to take out a loan for approximately $300,000 to install a splash pad to replace the wading pool. One reason that I voted against this was the project did not come through with exact costs. $300K was the starting point. It's as simple as this - if you can't afford to pay your monthly bills, you don't put in a pool.
Many of the "plans" that have been bandied about for the new Young Street Corridor have not been finalized as of yet. As a council, we have seen "ideas", we have heard wish lists, but seeing exact renderings hasn't happened as of yet. My feeling is that this is because we just got the grant money and didn't want to plan out anything that wouldn't be feasible. Please stay tuned for what will be happening with the closed section of Young St.
I am happy to announce that I plan on running for the representative of the 4th ward again this year. These last two years have flown by and the learning curve is straight up. I feel as though I've found my voice and will continue to work hard for the residents of the city.
The Statement below is not exactly what was read during the meeting. I went off script for a few things.
The purpose of this statement is to put on record, again, the recommendations of the City of Tonawanda Council to begin to rectify the dire and severe budget problem that we have found ourselves in.
18-24 months. I’ll say that again. 18-24 months is all that we have left as a city before our reserve fund runs out and we face the potential of a financial control board. Citizens of Tonawanda we are at our breaking point.
The solution to this is like a puzzle with many moving pieces. First, the positive: We have already seen an increase in our downtown business sector, when houses come up for sale they do not last long as word of our superior services and location is starting to spread, beginning in the Spring of 2019 Little League Drive will begin, there are private investments from organizations such as The Ralph Wilson Foundation , Our downtown is in the middle of a huge revitalization project that will no doubt bring people and businesses to our city. I could go on and on.
Those are just a few of the pieces that are in place for our historic citywide makeover. But even with the great forecast, there are still a few areas in which I believe we need to make progress. I am never one to mince words so let me put this out there as to what our financial future looks like should we remain reactive and not become proactive in our approach:
As a general reminder, our auditors feel comfortable with a reserve fund of about 4 million dollars. After the overspending of the past many years, we are already below 1 million dollars in our reserve fund at the beginning of fiscal year 2019. Less than a quarter of the least amount we should have. If the current trends in health care and general inflation continue, and we have to dip into our reserves as we have been doing recently, we will be out of reserve in 18-24 months. It would be devastating to the services and level of employment that we have come to know as residents of The COT. As such, any talk of new equipment, no matter what department would end. There will be no new hiring to replace retiring individuals. Furthermore, the very real possibility of layoffs across every department will become reality. If you want to know how that works out for employees please go and talk to any Buffalo Teacher or city worker who endured all of this for years on end.
Please let me make this next portion absolutely clear. The state we are in is in no way the fault of our city and union workers, but we are calling on you to help us as you do day in and day out. We are at the end of a very long time period of overspending, stagnant business, housing and development initiatives. The funding is not currently present to honor the length of contracts that were ratified just 2 short years ago. We need to right this ship and we don’t have much time to act.
My plea is to ask the three major unions to please consider coming back to the table and work out an amicable agreement with the city to help in anyway possible to stop what is coming. It is coming down to this ultimatum, either negotiate with us, or a control board where contractual staffing minimums will mean nothing, health care premiums will soar, salaries, and overtime will be frozen, reduced or not available. Everyone will be asked to do much more with much less.
As the representative of the 4th ward, the residents expect me to stand up for them and what I feel is the right move. It is my hope that these words heavily resound not only with the taxpayers who will face reduced services and increased taxes, but with every other stake holder in this process and that we can work together to keep Tonawanda the amazing city that it is for generations to come.
Hello Residents! It certainly has been a while since there has been an update. Between the Soccer Club and coaching a team, it has been extremely busy. I'm happy to say that this House Soccer season was one of our most successful in the last few years. It's also quite exciting that we are able to offer a Fall Outdoor season this year again. If your child between the ages of 4 and 10 is interested - games will all be on Saturday's and practices will be on the night of the coaches choosing. Please register here http://www.tonawandasoccer.com/2018-fall-house-registration.html
Ok, now on to council business, which has been extremely busy. As many of you know, in an effort to provide a bit more transparency, 3rd Ward Councilman Mike Young and I have sponsored the creation of a Citizens Budget Team. There will be approximately 8 citizens who will be able to sit in on our workshops and provide feedback about what is shaping up to be an extremely tough budget season. I don't believe the numbers that we are preliminarily hearing. I know that we will be able to get the numbers down to a reasonable amount. It all comes down to the fact that we have some pretty spectacular services in the city and in my mind, you get what you pay for. If I were the one reading this, I wouldn't get worried yet. This council is working together very hard to be fiscally responsible.
A few months ago, the Fire Department asked the council if they could apply for the SAFER grant to help hire 2 firemen and get their staffing back to 26. It is no secret that the overtime costs were exceeding over $200K per year with the staffing deficit. The OT was projected to be upwards of $225K this year. What the grant allows us to do is hire 2 firefighters with 75% of the costs funded by the federal govt for the first year, then 65% in the second year, and 35% in the third. This alone will save the city a great deal of money. The other thing this does for our firefighters is allows them to go to trainings to keep current on Firefighting developments and technology - which is a huge part of the safety aspect of the job. Second and more importantly, it gives the guys much needed down time. Thinking about what the job entails, seeing most people at their most needy time, a time when they are in the most pain of their lives takes a toll on you no matter what anyone says.
In being in the government, you tend to learn things that you never considered that go into running a city. One of them is "How much does it cost to turn on streetlights?" Well, in this city, the cost to run streetlights for the year is in the area of $300,000. Yes. Yearly. If I ever was reincarnated, I'd sell college text books and try to run the streetlight division of National Grid. This is a racket that we keep getting harpooned on year after year...here's the quick story of what happens...the city owns the lights (the bulb at the end of the arm sticking into the street) the power company owns the arm that holds the light and the pole if there is electric lines being held up by the pole. And guess what? National Grid charges the city year after year for the poles and arms that hold the bulbs. No longer! The New York Power Authority has been able to enter the market and help cities like us with this ridiculous cost. We met with NYPA this last week and learned that in this program we can install LED streetlights (cost saving #1), and OWN the lights outright. The way the program is run, municipalities can purchase the new lights (our cost would be near 1.2 Million dollars) but the savings in electrical costs is 73% in the first year and each year after that. Think of that - right now, if the city is writing a check to National Grid for $10k per month that cost will be reduced to, not by, $2700 each and every month. With the savings, we are able to pay off the initial investment in 4.5 years and then all of the savings are realized back to the city. Additionally, these new lights can hold WiFi beacons...and companies like Verizon, AT&T, etc are working hard to put out a 5G network and they need places to put their equipment...these light poles are the perfect place for that...So in the next few weeks, I'll be reaching out to these companies to see if they would be willing to "rent" space on top of our light poles. Stay tuned!
Young St. Closure (Main St area) - here it is right from the horses mouth - I am only in favor of permanent closure if there is a plan that is viable and sustainable in this city. I think the most important word in that statement was sustainable. When I see that - then a decision will be made and not until then.
The Federal Govt moved the Tonawanda Landfill up on their list for remediation. Last I heard the work would start within a year and take about 18-24 months to fully clean up. Who knows? The speed of government is incredibly slow, hopefully we will see some movement soon.
Young St (State St. Area) - This was a project that when begun, it was stated that it would be a 3 month project. Until they opened it up and saw that the soil underlaying the sewer was, for lack of a better term, eroding away. If they just replaced it as is, the sewers would have collapsed again in the future. It is out to bid now for a company to come in and take care of this problem....but hey, the bar is open!
At this time, I have no updates on the Little League Drive development.
Spaulding - no new updates other than I can say it is being aggressively marketed. We just have to find the right person.
I hope you all have a great week. See ya around the 4th Ward .
Just a few quick updates this week...I hope you are all doing well.
The council met with representatives from the State Court system last week. The state is going to pay to update the courtroom we currently have with new seating and floors. It looks as though the work will begin relatively soon.
I am going ahead with a resolution for the next meeting that states that pets aren't allowed at city sponsored events. 2 weeks ago when I was at the market, there was a gentleman with a dog that wrapped himself around a vendor's tent leg and almost brought it down, and there have been complaints about the dogs and other pets that are being brought down to the market. These complaints increase at the canal fest as well. I truly wish that every pet owner was responsible but that isn't the case. Hopefully, this will also help to protect the pets as well. Having them on the hot pavement and in crowds of people is inviting problems that I am hoping to avoid.
About a month ago the council met with an architectural firm who is interested in developing a large piece of Spaulding...further updates are coming.
Porchfest will be on August 26 from 1-5. Look for updates coming soon!
The city council is sponsoring the band and the food trucks in Clinton Park during Porch fest. Please stop by!
After a very long time, the contract between the city and the Projects has been updated. This renegotiation has taken place and is in the hands of the state for final approval, but it will bring an additional $25,000 into the city over the next 4 years. This replaces the agreement that has been expired since the 80's. Thank you to Jenna for great work on this initiative.
Have a great week!
Happy Father's day to every dad out there. I hope you had a good day grilling, golfing or assembling things from your kids!
I've taken a break from updates lately but should be back to our regularly scheduled programming.
We have a meeting this Tuesday night - 6 PM for informal and 7 for Formal. I hope to see you all there.
The mayor along with many others went before the DRI grant commission this week to present our application for a possible 10 Million dollar grant for downtown revitalization. This would go extremely far in moving the area into the next phase of development. I know that there is talk of a pavilion and other structures in the Young St. area. I believe that it was a good decision to extend the temporary closing of Young until we can see concrete plans for what is going to be done down there. Personally, I'd like to see a model similar to Olcott beach. Smaller shops, a splash pad near the hub, and some mixed use areas that could be built around the market and other events that take place down there. I don't want to put the cart before the horse and permanently close the area until we have adequate funding to do it right.
I had the pleasure of attending the Firemen's Inspection Day Parade yesterday. During my time as a volunteer at Sweeney Hose in NT, parade day was like Christmas in June. I can remember some fantastic times during my time as a volunteer and it was great to be a part of it again. The ceremony that Chief Stuart held to award many of our career firefighters was very well attended and it was great to see the commendations that were earned by the guys. It really makes you thankful for what they do on a daily basis.
Delaware looks awesome. I'm told by my Aunt and Uncle who live on Delaware that it is much quieter now that the traffic isn't hitting large pot holes! I would like to remind residents that Delaware is one lane in each direction and has a speed limit of 30. I don't believe that we will be striping in bike lanes (at least I'm against it) due to safety concerns.
The market is up and running quite well. Please keep your pets home from the market. The ground is extremely hot, the walkways are congested and we don't want your pets or our residents harmed in any way.
We have a 17 page agenda (below) for the meeting. It's mostly concerning new tax procedures for tax exempt organizations. It's a great read if you can't sleep tonight - guaranteed to make you sleep.
Young street construction is off and running as well. Knowing what a pain changing travel routes is, thank you for being patient while this project is continuing.
Tonawanda Soccer Club is off and doing well as well. It's great fun to watch the games and see over 220 kids playing the game each week. One of my favorite sounds of the summer is the sound of the parents cheering on their kids. In the coming weeks, our games will switch from Saturday mornings to Wednesday nights. In speaking with another parent, they suggested that we try to get the Food Trucks to come to the Wednesday Night games making it easier for the families to fit in dinner and games during the week....I am contacting a couple of the trucks to see what we can do. So if you are in the area of Riverview on Wednesday nights starting July 11, stop by and grab a bite and watch our own version of the World Cup!
I'm proud to report that the U16 team that I coach is doing well too! Our team is made up of girls from Tonawanda ages 12-16 (we have 1 16 yr old) and we are playing up in age and holding our own very well. Watch out for girls soccer at THS this year!
I'll be circulating on Monday night this week getting signatures for the Democratic Committee and for our special elections this November. I hope to see many of you as we continue this yearly process. Unfortunately, I have to stick to registered Democrats for door knocking, but if you see me out and about and have a concern please stop me and chat
I had the pleasure of attending my oldest daughter's 8th grade moving up ceremony this week. Being in the schools and knowing many of these kids since they were in Kindergarten, it's amazing to see how they've grown up. 4 more years and they will be off into the world; it's amazing to me how fast the time goes. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes "I wish there was a way to know you are in the good ol' days before you've actually left them." Cherish every minute, put the phone down and live the memory, and enjoy each other. Time goes too fast to live it behind a screen. Have a great week everyone~
Check back often to see what's going on as I walk the trail!