During its meeting Monday, Oct. 26, the Lewisboro Town Board reviewed the proposed 2021 budget prepared by Comptroller Leo Masterson.
Town Supervisor Peter Parsons began the discussion by noting that the 2021 budget was made with the understanding that many residents are dealing with financial hardships due to the pandemic.
“Based on that, and because those losses tend to be because of COVID-19, I really want to not break the cap this year,” Mr. Parsons said. “I want to stay within the cap.”
Mr. Masterson said the proposed budget meets the 2021 tax cap, set at an increase of 1.722% in the total tax levy. Mr. Masterson said the tax rate increase equates to a $26 increase per household in town taxes.
Mr. Parsons also addressed the biggest change to the budget from 2020, which is a roughly $155,000 increase in the police budget. Mr. Parsons said the budget increase will allow for two officers to be on duty beginning April 1.
“I want to strengthen the police department and this budget does this to some degree,” Mr. Parsons said.
The police department currently functions with one officer on duty the majority of the time, and Mr. Parsons said he would like to see if doubling that level would benefit the town.
Following Mr. Parsons’ introduction to the budget, Mr. Masterson presented the full 2021 plan.
“The people doing budgets, in my opinion, did an excellent job this year considering the parameters we put them through and the restrictions we asked them to abide by,” Mr. Masterson said.
Mr. Masterson said the tax levy increase is mainly due to additions to the police and Parks and Recreation budgets. However, he added that the increase was offset by a reduction in the Highway Department budget.
The only source of revenue in the Highway budget is CHIPS, or the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program. The town normally receives $212,000 from New York state in CHIPS, but due to the pandemic, that number has decreased to $170,000. Mr. Masterson said the decrease in CHIPS funding for 2021 will reduce the amount of roadwork the town can perform next year.
Additionally, Mr. Masterson said the town plans to borrow for road repaving work in 2021 since federal rates for borrowing will remain low for the immediate future. This borrowing will enable the town to shoulder higher expenses in the General Fund that are anticipated in the police and Parks and Recreation budgets.
Mr. Masterson said Parks and Recreation received just half of the anticipated revenue this year. In addition, the department’s 2020 expenditures decreased as well. The department’s 2021 revenue forecast was reduced to $535,000 from $1,000,091 this year. The department’s expense budget will see an approximately $100,000 increase from last year due to the addition of a maintenance worker.
The Parks and Recreation Department’s large expected decrease in revenue for 2021 accounts for the majority of the General Fund’s decrease in revenue. Mr. Masterson said the total revenue in the General Fund for 2021 is estimated at $5,069,840, a $541,000 decrease from this year.
“If you look at the difference from one year to the next, you can say revenue was reduced pretty much because of Park and Rec’s COVID-related decreases,” Mr. Masterson said.
Mr. Masterson said the court and mortgage tax line items offset each other. The court’s overall budget decreased by $100,000, due to a reduction in fines, while the mortgage tax increased by $100,000, due to the strong housing market.
Mr. Masterson explained the General Fund’s expenditures for 2021. He said the town did not assume any increases in salary and wages, with the exception of the police department.
Mr. Masterson said the expenses in the General Fund for 2021 are budgeted to be $8,820,057, compared to this year’s $9,071,348 in budgeted expenses. While overall expenses decreased, the police department’s budget increased from $1,042,468 in 2020 to $1,197,833 in 2021. This rise is due to the salary increases in both the police department’s part time and overtime budget lines.
Mr. Masterson also explained some of the unsettled items that could affect the budget he just presented. Mr. Masterson said that while they did not include salary increases in the budget, union negotiations have not yet taken place.
Another unknown is sales tax. Currently, the 2021 revenue from sales tax was kept unchanged from this year’s level. Mr. Masterson said the town is still waiting to receive guidance on sales tax revenue, which will show the negative economic effects of the pandemic.
Additional uncertainties in the budget are health care costs for 2021 and mortgage taxes. Mr. Masterson said details from the state on health insurance premiums are still forthcoming. Also, even though he is optimistic revenue from mortgage taxes will remain high in 2021, the town will not know the final 2020 mortgage tax amount until December.
After Mr. Masterson’s presented of the 2021 budget, Mr. Parsons asked for comments from fellow board members regarding the police department budget increase. Fellow board members unanimously agreed that the police budget increase is necessary.
“It’s long overdue,” Councilmember Jennifer Castelhano said.
Councilmember Jane Crimmins said she strongly favored the increase, which is a clear signal of support from the town. Councilmember Dan Welsh also noted the overwhelming call for an increase in the police budget expressed at the first Police Reform and Reinvention Committee meeting.
“It’s clear the public is interested in seeing progress there,” Mr. Welsh said.