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2012 proposed Lancaster budget, fiscally responsible or smoke and mirrors; Part I
By Lee Chowaniec
Oct 18, 2011, 09:42
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As in every public hearing on proposed budget in Lancaster, only a handful of residents showed up to voice their comments and concerns. Although the proposed 2012 budget calls for a slight tax decrease and one would think there would be no comments and concerns voiced, indeed there were.

The writer was the first to address the board on the proposed budget.

Chowaniec comments and questions

As this is an election year, one would expect a budget with a low tax increase. It appears all municipalities came in at 2% tax rate increases or less. The budget analysis Supervisor Giza and Budget Director Dave Brown presented in the Lancaster Source paints a rosy picture, and rightfully so.

The budget proposal calls for a mere 0.71% tax levy increase – far below the 2.8% tax levy increase the town was allowed by state law, after exclusions were figured in. Town of Lancaster residents would actually realize a slight reduction in taxes of 0.91% from last year.

Lancaster residents having a home assessed at $200,000 will realize a $16.19 tax reduction from last year’s property tax bill.

That’s a good thing considering that this budget has only an overall spending increase of 1.71%, and where the General Fund portion (minus Special Districts) increased by only 2.2%.

However, there are other budget items that the residents should be made aware of, and be concerned by them as well.

Since 2004, the year after the Lancaster Town and Village police merger, and through the 2011 budget year, spending increased by 38.2 % while revenues increased by only 18.3%. In those seven years spending increased by an average of 5.46% per year; far above the annual inflation rate and household wage increases, while at the same time revenues increased an average of 2.61%

Mr. Giza, you berated a Mr. Hyde who is running for a council position for failing to mention that his 38% increase in taxes was partially due to an assessment increase. In the 2005 reassessment process my assessment increased. It went down 10% in the 2010 reassessment and yet my town taxes increased by 35% over that seven year period. In fact, many residents last year experienced last year double-digit tax increase when the tax levy increased by 14%.

Lancaster’s 2012 budget reflects:

According to Supervisor Giza and Budget Director Brown's comments in the Lancaster Source, the following are some budget positives:

* No salary increase for any town employee.

* Town spending up by 2.2% was offset by a 5.68% increase in revenues.

* Debt service decreased significantly.

* Real property tax item revenue increased by 37.21%; from $615,100 to $843,950.

*Non property tax item revenue increased by 5.55%; from $4.56 million to $4.81 million.

* Town growth brought in more property tax revenue.

What should also be noted with this budget is the following:

Town employee benefits costs increased by 12.1%. By benefits you mean pension and health, correct? By what percentage did either increase?

Budget Director Dave Brown answered that the increase was primarily in retirement cost increases. “The Employee Retirement System (non police) went up near 28%, from $775,000 to $991,000. For the police it went from $1.2 million to $1.285 million, 7.80%.

What percentage of wage does the town contribute to the NYS Retirement System for town and police employees?

Brown answered that it depended what Tier the individual was in. But for non police town employees the town will contribute 20% of their wages to their retirement system and for police the town will be contributing 30% of their wage to their retirement system.

For the longest time police did not contribute to the retirement system and town employees contributed 3% for the first 10 years of full time employment. Has that changed?

Brown declared that the state has made changes. The new changes mandate that new non police employees contribute 3% forever and for the police there will be a change but that he is unaware of what that plan will entail.

This budget excludes a wage increase for all town employees. The town is currently in contract negotiations with the four unions. The current contracts expire at the end of this year. Has the town received union assurance, even verbal, that they will accept a wage freeze for 2012?

Brown responded that as of yet they have not received any union notification that they are acceptable to a wage freeze for 2012.

Am I correct in declaring that the total wage compensation for full time employees is approximately $5.39 million and for police it is $4.2 million for a grand total of approximately $9.6 million? So by not giving town employees and/or police a wage increases the town will save $96,000 for every 1% granted in wage increase?

What happens should the time come when the contract is negotiated and an agreement is reached where a 2012 retro wage increase takes place? Does not imply that there will be a large tax increase in the future that would also imply that the town board would vote to override the 2% tax cap limitation?

Brown responded that that logic is exactly opposite. “If you don’t give them (unions) a raise this year, than you can repeat it the next year, and the next, and literally forever until we reach an agreement.”

Personally, I don’t see why the unions would care about a wage increase if they are not being asked to contribute toward their health plan coverage.

All four union contracts end this year. Is the town in their union contract negotiation process asking the town employees to start contributing to their health care plans? No town employee currently contributes to their health care plan.

The one-year wage freeze is a one shot deal. Taxpayers would be better served if town employees were obligated to contribute 10 - 15% of their health care premium, a plan that includes dental and vision. The town has no say in the outrageous, mandated NYS Retirement System, but it certainly does have a say in the health care program.

If we use as example $60,000 as the average town wage, the one shot wage freeze would save the town $1,800; that is if a 3% wage increase is given the employee. If the town negotiated a contract that called for town employees to contribute 15% to their health care premium, every town employee would be contributing well over $2,000 to their health care plan. This makes the savings not a one shot, but savings for every year thereafter.

Mr. Supervisor, you stated in the Source: “Our theory is that people are hurting out there. They are losing their jobs. Let’s give everybody a little breathing room.”

While seniors like me, who have received no COLA in the last two years, have heard on none for this year so far, are paying $300 monthly (and more) for Medicare and supplemental insurance premiums. Those without insurance coverage are paying twice that amount. And we are expected to pay for town employee health plans that are much better than our own. That’s just not right!

That is not fiscally responsible governance. The town has been too generous in past contract negotiations. Whoever heard of longevity pay in the private sector? There is much more cutting to be done regarding buy back days, stipends, perks, etc.

This budget is not, “What you see is what you get.”

Next: Part II: Resident comments/concerns continued

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