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No Distress Over Assessment

Garden City unveils 2014-15 village budget

On the morning of Saturday, Feb. 8, the Incorporated Village of Garden City officially unveiled the initial draft its initial spending plan for 2014-15 in its 32nd annual public budget overview meeting, and according to village trustee and chairperson of the finance committee Richard Silver, it is a budget that is both economically sound and fiscally responsible.

Silver addressed a recently released Municipality Stress Assessment report by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. This report is intended to serve as an financial early-warning system to municipalities and Silver indicated that, of the four ratings available, Garden City had received a rating of “Susceptible to Stress,” which he explained the reasoning for in detail.

“The village scored 50 percent on a scale of 1 to 100, and that put us in the category of ‘Susceptible to Stress.’ If we had scored 45 and not 50, we would have been in the best financial category, which is ‘No Designation,’” he said. “There are two key drivers why we found ourselves in the ‘Susceptible to Stress’ category; one, our practice of obtaining low, unassigned fund balances, and we do that intentionally because we’re one of the few municipalities in New York with a AAA-credit rating, which means we have ready access to the capital markets if we should need it. We’re in a low-interest rate environment right now, so it just isn’t prudent to raise additional reserves of cash from taxpayers.”

“The second reason,”  Silver continued, “is that DiNapoli’s report looked at a period of time where municipalities had funded a significant portion of their Superstorm Sandy costs in cash, and were awaiting reimbursement from the state. If it were not for these two reasons, we would not have been in the ‘Susceptible to Stress’ category.”

“This kicks off our series of budget workshops for the 2014-15 budget year,” he said. “However, this doesn’t kick off the budget planning and management process...for us this isn’t a seasonal process; it’s a 365 day a year, 24 hour a day exercise. We actually started the planning process for 2014-2015 last spring, and our announced target was a zero percent increase and for our departments to come in as flat as possible, and I’m pleased to say that we’ve done a very good job in doing that.”

During a presentation hosted by Silver, it was revealed that Garden City’s preliminary 2014-15 budget currently comes in at $55,710,170; this represents a 2.39 percent increase over the previous year’s budget of $54,408,356. The tax increase amounts to 3.90 percent, and according to Silver, the village’s overall departmental operations costs only increased less than $50,000.

“We did a fiscal review half-way through our 2013-14 budgetary year, because we know that meeting or exceeding our budget targets for this past year is foundational for where we start in 2014-15,” Silver said. “I’m pleased to say that we are on track to come in at or below our budget targets for this year, and when we look at the numbers, that does give us the ability to carry forward an expected surplus that will help take pressure off of the 2014-15 budget.”

Various departmental heads also gave presentations on their individual spending plans for the upcoming fiscal year; among them were Garden City Fire Department Chief William Castoro; Garden City Police Department Commissioner Kenneth Jackson; and Garden City Public Library Director Dr. Carolyn Voegler.

Auditor James E. Olivo stated that the village is presenting details of its 2014-15 budget to the public earlier that usual in an attempt to keep their residents as an active part of the budget-creation process, and invited any feedback that they might be willing to give.

“What would make it clearer for you...we understand the budget, and it’s our job to make sure the public understands it as well,” he said. “This presentation goes a long way towards that goal, but we’re always open to criticism and we’re always open to comments.”

The annual meeting is notable for normally including a bus tour of the village for attending residents; however, Mayor John J. Watras announced that the tour would not be taking place this year due to safety issues presented by the accumulation of snow from the recent inclement weather hitting the area.

“It’s just a little too dangerous out there,” he said.