Fredonia Budget Includes Tax Hike

FREDONIA – A tax increase of 71 cents (2.1 percent) to the new rate of $34.29 per $1,000 of assessed value will take effect in Fredonia’s 2014-15 fiscal year.

The village board during a special meeting Thursday unanimously adopted a total budget of $9,555,450, which includes general, water and sewer funds. Trustee Marc Ruckman was not present to vote. That amount is down from the 2013-14 budget of $10,745,301.

“This budget was probably one of the most difficult ones ever enacted in the history of this village and was a task we did not undertake lightly. Many hours were spent analyzing and discussing the cuts to be made with department heads,” an open letter by Trustee Janel Subjack stated, referencing a “devastating body blow” from Carriage House’s impending closure by February and subsequent loss of about 425 local jobs and nearly $1.5 million in village property taxes and water and sewage revenues.

The 71-cent tax rate increase falls below the state-mandated tax cap, which stood at around 80 cents for the village.

Subjack said while public programs and services and funding to various organizations were cut across the board, Fredonia will continue to provide services residents are accustomed to, just in a reduced manner.

“It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s probably a necessary picture,” Mayor Stephen Keefe said when asked about the overall budget. “It’s something the trustees scratched and clawed and turned over every possible dollar and cent they could. Will we be able to function on what we have? That’s to be seen. Is it fair and equitable? Of course not, but it’s an emergency situation and sometimes you have to implement survival mode.”

Numerous personnel cuts will be realized over the course of the year, including two street department laborers; two sewer plant operator trainees; one sewer plant mechanical equipment operator; one sewer plant utility/labor position; one water plant operator trainee; a reduction from full- to part-time for an assistant clerk to the justice; elimination of all seasonal employees (6,000 hours) at the department of public works; and reduction of part-time police officers (2,000 hours).

“Those cuts will be phased in over the course of the year, since Carriage House isn’t closing up shop the first day of the fiscal year, June 1,” Village Administrator Richard St. George said. “As they close down, we’ll start our process of eliminating those jobs. Some will be gone on June 1, though.”

“We need to start meeting with personnel and we have a fair system to let people know what the situation is,” Keefe said. “We need to show respect to our employees.”

The only department with a personnel increase is the fire department, which will add two full-time ambulance staff to sustain a paid ambulance service similar to Dunkirk’s system.

Revenue from the ambulance service assumes $130,696 to offset costs associated with these two new hires.

Fire department hours are budgeted at 48 hours per week, with no overtime until 53 hours per week.

Taxpayers should not only expect an increase in the tax rate, but their water and sewer rates, as well. The water rate per thousand gallons should increase by 10 cents to $3.02, while the minimum charge for sewer rent will get upped by $25 per quarter. The water rent minimum will remain at $25 per quarter and the sewer rate per thousand gallons will stay constant.

A public hearing must take place first before these increases officially go into effect.

Despite expense cuts and tax increases, fund balance was still needed to offset operating losses in all three funds: $262,976 in the general fund, $196,641 in the water and $274,811 in the sewer. A total unreserved fund balance of $772,187 is expected May 31, 2015.

Nearly every capital project request was eliminated in this budget, according to Subjack. Village-sponsored programs also felt the chopping block.

“Department heads were proactive and creative in figuring out that equipment could be toggled for another year, the sewage treatment plant would utilize window air conditioners instead of installing a cooling system and the streets department would sell scrap metal and vehicles to pay for a new snow plow blade,” Subjack wrote. “The parks and recreation program was shortened by two weeks and the weekly concert series … in the summer will go on with the booked musical groups willing to play for reduced rates.”