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Thread: Lancaster 2021 budget public hearing

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    Lancaster 2021 budget public hearing

    Citing that the budget process was a moving target this year because of Covid and potential future impacts, Supervisor Ronald Ruffino declared that there would be discussion and changes down the road, even after budget adoption and closed with “We are all in this together.”

    Public hearing

    Resident Lee Chowaniec: Good evening. Looking for clarification on several budget items and determination of tax liability.

    Before I begin, which budget proposal do you want me to speak on, the one that had been filed with the Clerk’s Office and is still on the website under 2021 tentative budget along with past budgets, or the revised proposal posted on the website front page sometime after Friday? Such short notice left me little time to review the revised version as I just heard of it this morning.

    I will speak on the modified version as I had requested at the last meeting the town making changes to the filed budget; one that was incomplete, incorrect and lacking in comparative line item detail that would not allow residents the ability to comment appropriately.

    Revised 2021 tentative budget

    $35,218,925 - Appropriations (spending) - $851,729 decrease from 2020 budget

    $9,867,483 – Revenues - $747,724 decrease from 2020 budget

    $562,000 – Fund Balance use

    $25,043,442 – Amount to be Raised by Taxes (Tax Levy) - $1,273,498 increase, 5.35%

    Tax Rate – 6.71 (8.01 in 2020 budget)

    This revised budget proposal does bring much needed transparency, but at the same time has numerous, and sometimes significant, data changes that require further review. I appreciate the changes, although coming late.

    Supervisor Ruffino: By law, didn’t need to put out anything more than what was in the budget filed. Did so for transparency.

    Chowaniec: Appreciate that tax levy has been reduced from a 6.6% increase to 5.35%. At this reduced tax levy level, are we below the tax cap limit?

    Budget Director Pamela Cuviello: Spoke with the State Department and found that another the fund balance use would have to be increased from $308,000 to $562,000 to meet the tax cap limit.

    Chowaniec: There is $9.87 million in the unreserved Fund Balance, $1.45 million in the reserved Fund Balance, a total of $11.33 million. Why are we not using more fund balance to lower the tax levy, resulting in lower taxes for taxpaying residents who need relief at this perilous time. Especially for seniors and low-income families who are in jeopardy of losing their homes. Businesses as well.

    Cuviello: Declared that because of Covid the town is being conservative in case there is a need if another shutdown occurs, Can’t predict the future. Can’t use fund balance then if there is none.

    Supervisor Ruffino: No clue what we will need in the future if another wave of Covid hits in the future. Nor can we predict the revenues.

    Chowaniec: I well understand your predicament, hear the taxpayers. I am a senior citizen. The increase I will pay in town, county, and school taxes this year far exceeds the increase I received in Social Security. Residents who are being deceived into believing the new lower tax rate on 6.71 is going to lower their taxes will realize differently when they factor in their new assessments. My tax will increase by 9.6%.

    After using only $562,000 of fund balance, there remains over $9 million. In past town budgets, fund balance use was anywhere from $1-$1.9 million. Using but another $600,000 would half the tax levy and resident tax liability – and still leave well over $8 million in the fund balance.

    Councilman Robert Leary: Told by auditors that 17% of town budget reserves was appropriate. 17% of a $35 million budget approximates $6 million. The town has 31% in reserves. “We need to work harder on this budget to lower its impact. There are still a lot of errors in the revised budget that need to be addressed,”

    Resident David Rinow: Declared that it appeared the town was interested in its own security over that of the citizenry. Many of the residents don’t have the savings to fall back on, unlike what the town is planning on doing. The residents need tax relief – not much empathy for the residents coming from the town.

    Councilman Leary: “We have to work harder on behalf of the people. There are lots of errors in this budget that need addressing. As the budget changes we need to put it on the website to keep the people informed.

    Supervisor Ruffino: Believes putting it back up on the website should be delayed. The budget is a moving document. A lot of discussions to be had – with department heads as well. Residents can speak on the budget at future public comment sessions or submit written comments. “We welcome input. We are all in this together”.

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    Member mark blazejewski's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lee Chowaniec View Post
    Cuviello: Declared that because of Covid the town is being conservative in case there is a need if another shutdown occurs, Can’t predict the future. Can’t use fund balance then if there is none.

    Supervisor Ruffino: No clue what we will need in the future if another wave of Covid hits in the future. Nor can we predict the revenues.
    Indeed, Covid presents an elephant in the room and an appropriate amount of fiscal caution is necessary.

    With that said, is a request to increase the salary of the supervisor along with a request to reinstate the Budget Officer stipend appropriately consistent with Supervisor Ruffino's expressed concerns; the same concerns which may significantly impact the tax burden upon the elderly and lower-income population?

    After all, "We are in this together" are we not?
    Last edited by mark blazejewski; October 20th, 2020 at 03:11 PM.
    Ruffino's definition of transparency?: "Basically, I have three votes."

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    Member gorja's Avatar
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    To me it's a 'Catch 22'. It's true that 16.67% is the recommended amount in a normal year.
    What's normal anymore?


    Have a GREAT day,
    Georgia Schlager

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    2021 budget revision #2

    At Monday evening’s public hearing on the revised tentative budget proposal, Supervisor Ruffino declared it would not be necessary to have another hearing on budget revisions, that residents could address the budget at future town board meetings or by written comment. Considering the revised budget presented and addressed Monday evening has changed significantly from the budget filed on October 1st, overnight the revised budget had numerous line item changes. Any future changes should be posted on the website for residents to scrutinize and comment on.

    Observed changes made in 24 hours to budget revision #1

    Fund Balance use increased from $308,000 to $562,000 to meet levy tax cap limit.

    Tax Levy decreased from $25,043,442 to $24,793,042 – from 5.35% to 4.56% (filed budget October 1st $25,348,964, 6.6%)

    Tax Rate (per $1,000 assessed property valuation) – decrease from 6,71 to 6,64)

    Fund Balance - $7,983,506 unreserved, $666,376 in reserved. Total - $8.65 million

    When speaking on the budget Monday evening, I was using Fund Balance numbers posted on the October 1st filed budget - $9.88 million in unreserved and $1.45 million in reserved for a total of $11.33. There was another $254,000 of fund balance added to budget revision #1, used to meet the tax cap limit. $11.33 million - $562,000 = $10.76 million. However, budget revision #2 shows only $7.98 million in unreserved fund balance and $666,376 in the reserved, for a total of $8.65 million.

    What precipitated the significant change in fund balance over such a short period? Why wasn’t this new fund balance number mentioned Monday night? When questioned by me on the debt service, Budget Director Cuviello spoke on funds being spent to refile a 2012 bond purchase to lower the borrowing rate percentage from 5% to 1.7% saving the town $300,000. A 2005 loan was paid off. Do these transactions affect the fund balance?

    The budget needs scrutiny and questioning as changes occur. In one day numerous and some significant changes took place. Moving target indeed, Mr. Supervisor. And so far, the information coming has been slow, confusing and with questionable data entry.

    And, despite there being only $8.65 million in fund balance, that is still 24% of the budget, and where more fund balance could be used to lower the tax levy and provide much needed tax relief for town residents – IMHO!

  5. #5
    Member mark blazejewski's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lee Chowaniec View Post

    And, despite there being only $8.65 million in fund balance, that is still 24% of the budget, and where more fund balance could be used to lower the tax levy and provide much needed tax relief for town residents – IMHO!



    "Ruffino expressed his concern about taxpayers ability to continue to have the burden of unchecked management within the town."


    Those were the words that appeared on a very late campaign mailer which apparently was circulated in support of Mr. Ruffino's 2019 candidacy for Supervisor.

    IMHO, unless Mr. Ruffino's concerns for the taxpayers was disingenuous or has since changed, perhaps Mr. Ruffino needs to "check the management" of his Budget Director?"
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Ruffino's definition of transparency?: "Basically, I have three votes."

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    Frustrated and feeling deceived

    As I continue to review 2021 budget revision #2, I see numerous line item changes that bear questioning. Expecting to speak on the tentative budget filed on October 1st, one that I had spent days preparing for, a revised budget was published and posted on the town website on Saturday October 17th, two days prior to the public hearing. I was not informed of the revision until the morning of the public hearing – leaving little time for preparation.

    Within hours of the public hearing a second revision is posted on the website with numerous line item changes as well – some significant, some incorrect, some questionable.

    Supervisor Ruffino stated Monday that more changes would be coming, even after the final budget was approved – that the budget was a moving target, a living document. I was displeased with the 11th hour budget change, and even more so with the added revision.

    Supervisor Ruffino declared Monday evening that by law he had the right to make changes to the filed budget – changes that would make the budget more transparent. To make the budget more transparent, indeed, but to keep changing the data is questionable. Once the budget is filed and approved for public hearing, doesn’t it become the preliminary budget and the up to the town board to determine what changes (amendment) need to be made?

    The tentative budget that was filed by the budget officer was indeed an embarrassment – incomplete, filled with incorrect / inconsistent data entry, exceeding the levy tax cap limit, etc.

    Once the budget is filed and becomes the preliminary budget, isn’t the budget officer’s job done? Isn’t it then up to the town board to amend the budget as it sees fit?

    How many more budget revisions will there be for the public to review and comment on with any certainty of reliable information.

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    Member gorja's Avatar
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    I noticed last year that Supervisor Coleman put out her preliminary budget.
    The following meeting was a hearing on that budget.
    Then between the budget hearing and the budget approval meeting, she had made amendments to the budget of
    which were not part of the hearing.


    Have a GREAT day,
    Georgia Schlager

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    Quote Originally Posted by gorja View Post
    I noticed last year that Supervisor Coleman put out her preliminary budget.
    The following meeting was a hearing on that budget.
    Then between the budget hearing and the budget approval meeting, she had made amendments to the budget of
    which were not part of the hearing.
    Supervisor Coleman made changes to the preliminary budget, or the town board? I remember Ruffino voting against the 2020 Ad Valorem budget, opposing many of the adjustments but never once mentioning that Coleman was personally making the adjustments, and where the board voted 4-1 in favor of budget adoption.

    Outside of Ruffino making much of the budget as it was an election year and he was running for Supervisor, the budget had little impact on town taxes. My town taxes increased by only $14. Not so this year.

    Last years budget had less in fund balance than this year but used $1.25 million in fund balance to lower the tax levy and taxpayer tax liability. The 2021 budget fund balance use is only $562,000 in the revised version - $353,000 in the filed budget.

    There are some department wage increases in the revised budget needing questioning. At a time when Supervisor Ruffino pontificated that we are all in this together, his reinstating the $5,000 stipend for Budget Officer is ill-timed. He already increased his salary by 1.97%, a $1,402 increase. Adding the $5,000 stipend increases his salary percentage to 9%. In 2013, the Budget Officer stipend was removed, inserted one time in 2018 and removed again in 2019.

    There are residents who question why any town employee is getting an increase this year when many taxpayers are losing their jobs and don’t have the means to pay their taxes. Seniors on Social Security are seeing their 2020 COLA increases exceeded by hundreds of dollars this year paying their taxes.

    WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER! RIGHT?

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    Media 2021 budget coverage off the mark

    I was disappointed when reading the Lancaster Bee and Lancaster Sun coverage on Monday evening’s public hearing on the Lancaster 2021 Preliminary Budget Hearing.

    Both newspapers referred to the public hearing as a hearing on the Tentative Budget. I understand the confusion as I was equally confused when speaking on the budget Monday evening as well – even asking which budget do you want me to speak on, the one filed in the Clerk’s Office on October 1st, or the revised version of October 17 with all the 11th hour changes, but with hours to review.

    I was hoping either edition would write that it was supposed to be a hearing on the preliminary budget and explain the distinction, yet they referred to it as the ‘tentative budget’. It was a preliminary budget – not a tentative budget.

    On October 8th, there was a legal notice in the Lancaster Bee (Town’s official newspaper) that read:

    BY ORDER OF THE TOWN BOARD OF THE TOWN OF LANCASTER
    BY: DIANE TERRANOVA, Town Clerk
    October 8, 2020
    LEGAL NOTICE
    TOWN OF LANCASTER
    NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING
    ON THE 2021 PRELIMINARY
    BUDGET


    The October 19, 2020 Town Board Agenda on the public hearing:

    5. Public Hearings at 7:15 P.M.: No. 1 2021 Special Districts Budget No. 2 2021 Preliminary Budget

    The distinction is important because when the Supervisor’s tentative budget is filed it is filed with the approval of the town board and becomes the preliminary budget and opens the setting of a public hearing on the preliminary budget. The the public hearing date was scheduled at the October 5th town board meeting for October 19th.

    Residents should have been addressing the filed October 1st budget proposal, not the October 17th revised version. The board had not reviewed and approved the revised budget version. The changes made to the filed budged were made unilaterally by Supervisor Ruffino. I should have been speaking Monday on the filed October 5th budget,

    The filed budget was indeed a debacle – inadequate, non-transparent, filled with errors – embarrassing. It should never have been adopted by the board making it the preliminary budget and open to public review as the tax levy increase of 6.6% it did not meet the tax cap limit.

    The Lancaster Sun quotes Cuviello (Administrator of Finance who is in charge of putting the budget together) as saying: “Town officials also recently modified the tentative budget, making some changes that now meet the 2% tax cap limit (the amount a municipality can increase its tax levy from year to year.”

    Town officials did not have an opportunity to review the changes in the revised (Supplemental) budget or approve said changes. In fact, the revised budget cut the fund balance from $353,000 to $308,000 and we didn’t learn UNTIL Monday evening that on that very day from Cuviello that the revised budget did not meet the tax cap and was further revised and another $254,000 had to taken from the fund balance to meet the tax cap limit.

    The town board has its job cut out now to make appropriate adjustments to the filed budget that will result in adopting a final budget (by no later than November 20th)that is fiscally responsible and in the best interests of the taxpaying residents it serves.

    And yes Virginia, there is money in the fund balance that can be used to lower the tax levy that will give relief to property owners that were hit by high assessments, seniors and families on fixed incomes, people that have lost their jobs, and small businesses.

    Supervisor Ruffino declared several times at the hearing that the budget is a moving target, a living document and subjected to numerous changes, even after adoption and that other municipalities are going through the same situation because of Covid. So are we, Mr. Supervisor, so are we. We must use our savings to balance our budgets, that is if we have any.

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