The Lewisboro Town Board began preliminary budget discussions for 2021 during  its meeting Sept. 28. The Lewisboro Library, Highway Department and Maintenance Department shared their 2021 draft budgets with the town board.

Lewisboro Library Director Cynthia Rubino asked for an increase in funding. Ms. Rubino said that in 2019, the town provided 70.7%, or $438,113, of the library’s operating budget income. However, she also noted that the Lewisboro Library has the lowest per capita public support of any library in Westchester County. Of the 38 libraries in Westchester, Lewisboro Library is ranked 38, receiving $32.72 per capita per year of public funding.

Ms. Rubino said the library has operated at a deficit the past few years and relies on the Library Fair and donations to make up the difference. The 2021 draft budget currently forecasts the library will be in the red by $77,364, a gap Ms. Rubino said she hopes it can fill.  

Ms. Rubino said additional funds are needed to cover library staff salary expenses. As the minimum wage rose, Ms. Rubino said they had to begin paying their staff more, and they are planning a 1.35% raise for library staff. The library needs an additional $5,400 of town funding, a 1.23% increase, in order to cover the expenses of the salary raise, according to the director.

Library Board of Trustees President Nancy Euchner highlighted all of the work the library has done during the pandemic, including Ms. Rubino’s ability to secure a Paycheck Protection Program loan. She also noted that library finances will remain uncertain next year due to the unknown course of the pandemic.

Town Supervisor Peter Parsons said that he supports the $5,400 increase in town funding and said he will vote in favor of it when the time comes.

Highway Superintendent Peter Ripperger reviewed his department budget proposal, with most budget lines either staying the same or decreasing from the current year. Spending areas expected to continue at current levels include mechanic overtime rate, tree work, hardware and maintenance, road repair and paving. Decreasing budget items include office supplies, fuel, gravel and sand, and vehicle repairs.

Another, notable decrease is in the department’s salt contract. Due to a surplus of salt stored from last year, the department’s salt budget is expected to decline by $30,000.

Mr. Ripperger also noted that the Highway Department usually receives, separate from its town budget, $212,000 from the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program. However, this past year New York state cut local CHIPS funding by $42,000. The Highway Department wound up with $170,000 from this program and is budgeting the same amount in 2021.

On a summary level, Mr. Ripperger is budgeting $198,089 for highway and street administration; $819,871 for the maintenance of roads; $462,500 for permanent improvements; $215,287 for mechanics; $17,400 for the garage; and $405,500 for snow removal. Mr. Ripperger said there are no increases in the budget from last year other than any changes stipulated by union contracts, which will be known in January.

Facilities Maintenance Manager Joel Smith presented the Maintenance/Shared Services draft budget. Mr. Smith said the Shared Services budget will be $11,000 less than last year, falling to $679,900. He added that the department has been able to spend less on electric and oil due to their conversion to LED across all facilities.

In addition, Mr. Ripperger said the Technical Services budget will remain the same as last year at $77,700.

Mr. Parsons said that he asked every department head to assume a zero percent increase in their budgets except increases due to contractual obligations. This request is due to the fact he does not want to raise local taxes at a time when many residents are already suffering financially due to the pandemic.

Westchester Power

During the Sept. 14 town board meeting, Westchester Power presented bid results and the 2021 contracts to the board. Eligo Energy had the best bid for Westchester Power’s standard energy supply, resulting in the 2021 contract to be 6.719-cents per kilowatt hour for 12 months.

Eligo Energy also had the best bid for Westchester Power’s green energy supply with 7.190-cents per kilowatt hour for 12 months.

As a default, Lewisboro residents are automatically signed up for Westchester Power’s green supply unless they opt out.

During the public comment period in Monday’s meeting, multiple residents expressed concern with Westchester Power’s energy program. One resident claimed that Westchester Power does not save residents money, and in fact, his New York State Electric & Gas bill from last year shows he was charged about 1-cent less per kilowatt hour than Westchester Power’s program.

Residents also expressed concern that the program is opt-out rather than opt-in. Councilman Dan Welsh, who is also Sustainable Westchester’s program director, responded to these concerns by stating that sometimes there are discrepancies between NYSEG and Westchester Power, and that it is impossible to know how energy prices will change throughout the year. Mr. Welsh added that if people are not comfortable with Westchester Power’s prices, they can opt-out of the program.

Mr. Welsh also noted that the opt-in default has been necessary to ensure the program has  sufficient scale to move the community toward renewable energy in a meaningful way. He added that letters informing residents of Westchester Power’s 2021 contract will arrive in mailboxes next week where residents will be able to see all of the information and can decide if they would like to participate or not.

Miscellaneous

During the last town board meeting held Sept. 14, the board discussed a slight change to the town code. Mr. Parsons clarified that the town code already states that if a resident owes any money to the town, in taxes or property violations, the resident cannot receive a permit from the town. The proposed change would modify the code slightly by allowing residents who owe the town money to receive a permit either for correcting a hazardous situation on their property or for correcting the issue on their property causing a violation.

Town Attorney Anthony Molé drafted the change for the five sections of the town code where it is applicable. With the change, the code now states that a resident cannot get approval for a permit until they address any violations or fines, unless the permit application remediates the issue or is for a hazardous condition “in the interest of health, safety and welfare of the community,” the code states.

Mr. Parsons proposed they set a public hearing on the proposed change for the board meeting on Monday, Nov. 9, which all board members approved.

The town board also had another brief discussion about selling the town-owned property at the corner of Lake Shore Drive and Truesdale Lake Drive in South Salem. In the prior town board meeting, Mr. Parsons asked Mr. Molé to add a no-building restriction to the property’s deed. The land is currently unbuildable due to it being a wetland, but Mr. Welsh suggested the board add the provision in case climate change alters the land’s current characteristics. All board members voted in favor of the additional restriction.

During the meeting, the board approved relocating the town’s MetroCom radio equipment at the Vista Fire House to the top of the cell tower located next to the Vista Fire Department. Mr. Ripperger said the Highway Department often loses service on town radios in Vista and adding the radio equipment to the cell tower would greatly improve town radio communication.

The board also voted in favor of a proposed resolution by Mr. Parsons approving three requests for proposals under the East of Hudson Community Wastewater Planning Assistance Grant Program for treating wastewater at Lake Truesdale, Lake Kitchawan and Lake Waccabuc. All board members were in agreement, and Mr. Parsons said the request for proposals would go out the following day.

Through the approval of the RFPs, the town is inviting proposals for an engineer or engineering firm to develop a report that will assist the town in evaluating potential wastewater solutions for the three lakes.

Jessica Leibman is a staff reporter at The Record-Review where she covers the Town of Lewisboro the Katonah-Lewisboro School District.

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