Last year, the Common Council budgeted $50K towards salary raises of three City officers – the City Treasurer, City Clerk, and Code Enforcer. This raise increase was due to take effect on January 1, 2018 and totaled approximately $25K. In October 2018, the raises had not been paid and a resolution appeared on our (the Common Council’s) desks to pay the raises retro-actively, in accordance with the resolution passed last year.
There was a question regarding the remaining funds from the budgeted $50K. It was understood that the difference (about $24K) would be applied to raises for the permanent part-time employees of the City.
However, when the resolution was introduced this month, the permanent part-time employee salary increase was to be retro-active to January 1, 2018, with the total expenditures of approximately $73,790. This was over the budgeted amount, and the difference was to come out of the Fund Balance account – which is the City’s reserve account for expenses.
I voted against this resolution. I am in favor of a $15/hour pay increase to City’s permanent part-time employees, but feel that the raises should be retro-active for about two months – not ten – in order to stay within the City’s approved budget, and not raid the fund reserve account.
In the Finance Committee meeting we discussed that if the City Budget was passed now, based upon the increases that each department head wants, we are looking at a 13% tax increase. (That amount still needs to be settled by the BEA – the board consisting of the Mayor, Treasurer, and Common Council President.)
Health insurance costs for City workers – present and past – increased by about $200,000 within the past year. A floating rate of interest on the lease/mortgage of the Central Fire Station is costing the City another $56K this year, and we expect more next year. The increase to the permanent part-time salary employees is going to cost approximately $100K next year.
We live in a City of about 6,400 people with a declining population with no new major development to increase the tax base.
My concern is that taxes during this budget cycle will increase again. My greater concern is that spending and taxes are increasing in relatively good economic times for the City and that we may not be prepared for a downturn in the market.
Potential solutions to help offset these and future costs are the following:
- “Cobra” Street Lights – The City should own the large “cobra-like” street lights as opposed to renting them from National Grid. In DPW meetings, we have discussed that the City now spends about $160K/year renting the lights from National Grid, plus about another $40K in electricity costs. If the City owned the lights (which would cost about $600K to buy them), we would save the rental costs over time. Plus, it would then make sense to replace the current sodium bulbs (that we would then own) with LED lights. This would significantly decrease the electricity costs and triple the bulb’s lifetime. This solution was raised by the the head of DPW and is currently being pursued by the DPW department.
- Cemetery Maintenance Costs – By law, the City must maintain the Hudson City Cemetery. As people buy plots of land, funds go into a Cemetery Reserve account – not to be touched. In theory, the interest on that account is supposed to pay for the Cemetery’s maintenance. However, over time, interest rates have gone down, and maintenance costs have gone up. Currently, the City is “in-the-hole” for about $200-300K/year. There is a Cemetery tour on Sunday, Oct. 28 at noon, sponsored by the Library. You can sign up by sending an email here. I am planning a Friends of the Cemetery Group meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 30th, at 6pm at the Library. The focus will be on how volunteers can help raise funds and volunteer. I recently visited the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy with Peter Jung. That cemetery – 300 acres – operates on approximately the same budget as our 70+ acre cemetery – with NO tax-payer funds! Oakwood has a board of trustees that raises funds through various events and outreach within the community. Other solutions such as sheep or goats, as opposed to lawnmowers and weed wackers, are in use by other cemeteries throughout the country. This would help free up DPW resources dedicated to maintaining the cemetery, that could then be reallocated to other needful city projects such as cross walks, sewers, sidewalks, etc.
- Solar Panels and more efficient lighting. Although less in savings, there are a few other projects that I am also working on for the city to help save money.
- The City will be receiving a grant from NYSERDA for $35K that I completed as Chair of the Economic Development Committee. The grant has a lightbulb exchange program for residents as well as City solar panels to help defray electric costs.
- I am working with one of our local solar energy providers to assess our lighting needs throughout the City and replace our incandescent light bulbs with LED bulbs wherever we can – parking lots, basketball courts, city buildings.
As Alderman and Chair of the City’s Economic Development Committee, I’m working with NYSERDA and the DEC on additional grant applications for the City.
Thank you, Hudson!