Village of Washingtonville Public Budget Hearing
UPDATE: VILLAGE HAD WHITTLED THE TAX INCREASE FROM HIGH 30'S TO 25% , NOW, ON 1/29 IT AS BEEN FURTHER DECREASED TO A FRACTION OVER 20% PERCENT. THIS IS THANKS IN LARGE PART TO TRUSTEE MEMBERS, DOING DOUBLE DUTY, AND SACRIFICING THEIR MODEST RAISES.
( Reminder - the Comprehensive Plan Interactive Public Session to receive input and share information about what the village residents want for the future is scheduled for Thursday, February 15. 2024)
On Wednesday, January 24, close to 100 residents came to the Village Hall to hear the how and why of a proposed budget that even with some possible last minute reductions wouldl increase Property
Taxes by at least 20% to 25%. At the beginning of the meeting about 15 people signed up to speak their concerns, but when the time came they said their questions had already been answered.
The Village officialsm Treasurer and an Auditor hired to assist them in bringing the municipality up to date regarding financial reports that had not been submited to the State, went to great lengths to describe their efforts and provide transparency about the process. For two hours they explained line items and their efforts to turn a deficit finance situation around. Mayor Tom Devinko, Deputy Mayor Susan Walski, Trustees Donna Jacaruso and Vernon Coleman, Steve Presser, Police Chief Brian Zaccaro, and heads of the DPW, water and sewer sewer departments were all there to answer residents' questions.
Residents listened, learned, and voiced concerns. They offered constructive suggestions about ways to hasten getting out of the deficit the Village stepped into when after being sworn in they learned that funds in the budget were missing about $2.2 Million of the 2023 budget having just been used to pay a stack of urgent old bills. Not only that, but with no suitable computerized record keeping system having been been used in several years and grant moneys being dumped in the General Fund and spent without respect to category or line item, the current 2023 budget was like a big jigsaw puzzle with numerous missing pieces. The Sewer Department alone almost lost $1.4 M because of missing data that should have been documented as cost items while building the new sewer plant. Much of that grant money MAY be able to be obtained if the documentation is able to be uncovered and provided to the State funding agency. So far $240,000 of the $1.4M was able to be collected . Likewise, they said that Orange and Rockland owes approximately $800,00 in erroneous charges. That being said, finances will look up as these and other documentation issues are corrected.
During 2023, dozens of boxes of receipts and vendor letters were used to rebuild a semblance of correct documentation with the help of Treasurer Leslie Tillotson and Auditor Brandon Kennedy to stitch together the missing pieces and State required yearly financial reports. Was there criminal liability? According to Kennedy he has "Not found any criminal liability YET, but I am still looking". As of now, he said it was just very messy and not organized as it should be. Line items were not recorded in their proper place and bills were paid out of grant monies without clarity of where they were from or where they went. If really needed, money can sometimes be used from the General Fund for another purpose, but it has to be clearly documented with an Amendment to the current budget so a municipality knows where it stands financially. This was not the case in numerous instances during recent years.
A New Start
A $4.4M Deficit New York State Bond gave Washingtonville officials funding for 2023 to catch up on bills and literally not run out of money. They immediately looked for ways to cut costs. The first item to go was a decision to hold off on replacing missing emloyees, several of which left during the new administration's first day in the office. But the void meant that the Mayor and Trustees could no longer function as part time employees while they sorted through the dozens of boxes and filing cabinets and desk drawers and even made personal visits to vendors to find receipts while determining what money had come from what sources and where it had gone. Next was reestablishing a vendor list since some had closed accounts. They determined that faulty meters accounted for the potential loss of 30% of water revenue. Some residents were also overbilled. One house had YEARS of readings that simply said "meter unreadable".
The Village Board then began researching an appropriate computer accounting system which will become operational in February and March and will correctly keep track of payments and revenue. The Edmunds Accounting Program is used by many municipalities since Quickbooks lacks some of the complex categories and does not support interfaces. They determined that water billing was way off due to the inaccurate meters. This cost the village about 1/3 of the income they shuld be accruing in the water department as well as some residents who were overcharged, also due to faulty meters.
The Board has vowed to use the "Deficit Bond" only for things absolutely necessary. At the time that it was obtained several months ago, they were fortunate to obtain a 7% interest rate, which will drop even lower after the first year's principal is paid.and it switches from band to bond. Kennedy said that after failure to file even basic reports in recent years, State Comptroller DiNapoli's office will have the financial actions of Washingtonville under a microscope for the next 10 years. The other issue he said, that had contributed to the deficit was that there had been NO increase in taxes during the previous 6 years.
Quite a few eyebrows were raised about planned salary increases that were originally to be increased due to the number of empty employee positions at the Village Hall which nearly doubled the workload of Trustees, and the board decided that even an increase would still be vastly more economical than hiring 6 or more new employees that they were really not ready to take on. However, after a 2nd meeting with residents Mayor Devinko announced at a meeting with residents on Saturday that THERE WILL BE NO SALARY INCREASES THIS YEAR.
Savings and Solutions
So far, the Village has identified numerous areas of savings and already implemented some of them .
Grants - There are numerous grants that have already been obtained and will cover things like improvements in the Park system. This includes $78,000 received from Rieger Homes for a recently completed development , It will be put in a Parks fund which all new developments must contribute to. Trustee Vernon Coleman has taken the job of writing and managing applications for and the monitoring of grants if and when they are acccepted. He is also writing and applying for several other grants, including one for Sewell Park completion.
After a resident suggested implementing more Shared Services with the Town of Bloomingl Grove, another asked whether Shared Services of the Highway Departments is really helpful. Devinko responded that their Highway Dept. saves about 50% on all vehicle repairs That is in addition to helping the Village during flooding, large construction projects, tree cutting and other Highway Department work when needed. He added that they are looking into other potential Shared Services with the Town .
Another resident, asked whether the Water Department has any surplus that they could sell, and was told that indeed they do and are considering promoting its sale more, especially during Summer when pools need to be filled. They added that although there is also extra capacity at the sewer plant they are reluctant to offer it to outside users due to the potential of toxic and/or undigestible particulates getting in the system.
Next, a resident asked whether the increasing financial acumen required by leadership of a village these days might be better served by having a Village Manager with a finance background as several other municipalities have done. Board members shared that they have been discussing that possibility for the future. But in the present circumstances it is not reasonable since it would add $75,000 to $125,000 to what is already a deficit. Also, you wouldn't want a Village Manager who is an expert in finances to be spending dozens of hours sorting through boxes for receipts. They will consider it for the future.
Lastly, a resident suggested adding a warehouse and/or non-toxic manufacturing "plant" to the Industrial Park. This would add tax rateable income to the village without adding to the school budget or any significant increase in other services.
Devinko closed the meetig by emphasizing that they are making sure all of their actions are transparent. He encouraged residents to call him with any questions, ideas, or complaints. Later he also offered a Q&A Session to the public on Saturday (1/27).
The entire Proposed Budget is: $6,990,246
The full document is on the Village website at:
Note: It is relatively common for homeowners (especially new homeowners) to misunderstand the criteria for individual property tax amounts. Assessed value is NOT the same as the value of a house for sale. It is a far smaller number, so that the actual increase is lower than many people generally expect. Also, if you are having trouble paying the full amount of your property tax you shoud ckeck whether a STAR Senior and/or Low Income deduction is available which can make a very large reduction. If you are Low Income you can also apply for help with Utilities. This can equal about 1/3 of the average homeowner's property tax.