2018-03-29 / Front Page

Nota: $24.4M budget plan ‘fairly lean’

Municipal side increase is less than 1 percent

An expansion of the senior coordinator’s position and $100,000 redirected from the golf course highlighted Town Administrator Andy Nota’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2018-19.

Nota presented the $24.43 million measure to the town councilors during Monday’s initial workshop on the operating budget. Although the overall spending plan represents a 3-percent increase, municipal operations are increasing by less than 1 percent, mostly driven by salary raises that are around 3 percent more.

“It’s a fairly lean program,” Nota said.

The budget is being driven by the school department, which has been hampered by increased costs associated with special education and tuition. Overall, education is responsible for 58 percent of the spending plan.

According to Nota, a property tax rate of $8.95 per $1,000 valuation is necessary to meet the tax levy of $19.97 million in the upcoming year. That is 29 cents, or 3.3 percent, more than the current rate. If adopted by the council and approved by voters, this uptick would represent $145 more in taxes for a half-million-dollar home.

A lurking red figure in Nota’s budget is a $50,000 shortfall in revenue. Since retiring the bond on the golf course in 2008, the town has taken the lion’s share of the $175,000 annual lease to subsidize the general fund, leaving only $25,000 earmarked for course improvements. Nota, however, is recommending an additional $100,000 annually for that function, which will finance the greens and water system in dire need of work.

To cushion that shortfall, Nota’s plan transferred an additional $50,000 from the fund balance. The rest of the revenues remain level.

Another outlier is a 40 percent increase in senior services, fueled by increasing the coordinator’s position from 19 hours to 30 hours per week. The $102,620 line item represents an 80 percent increase from 2013-14. Nota also suggested setting aside a $20,000 placeholder for legal services. Currently, the law firm of Ruggiero, Brochu & Petrarca is paid $95,000 annually by the town. When that contract expires in the upcoming fiscal year, however, Nota is assuming $95,000 won’t be enough to retain them. A preliminary study he did showed most solicitors in comparable towns earn around $150,000 annually.

“We found that Jamestown is lagging significantly behind,” Nota said.

“That is woefully low compared to the services we receive,” said Kristine Trocki, council president.

Another department with a proposed increase will be the police force, which is estimated to cost $1.8 million to operate, 4.3 percent more than the current year. That includes three new hires and nearly $25,000 more in retirement benefits, a 14 percent uptick.

Police Chief Ed Mello, however, only budgeted $150,000 for overtime. That actual figure was $266,000 in 2016-17. The budget also represents a $15,000 increase in the tax assessor’s salary. That’s because Ken Gray, who retired last summer, was working four-day work weeks. The full-time role has been restored for the new assessor.

As for the unrestricted fund balance, Nota said the reserve should equal at least two months of operating revenues or expenditures, which is about 17 percent of the budget. According to the most recent auditor’s report, the unrestricted fund in town is $5 million, which is well above the threshold. Having a healthy surplus, Nota said, allows for better bond ratings.

For state aid, the town will benefit from a $32,000 increase, although $27,000 of that is a wash. Because the state is phasing out the excise tax, the town is losing revenue on one line but is being reimbursed on another line.

Increased revenue from the hotel and restaurant taxes, along with a decrease in library aid, all are negligible, he said. Typically, Nota said these figures from the state have been “untrusted,” which led to conservative estimates. This year, however, is different.

“We feel very comfortable that these numbers are accurate,” he said.

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