Friday, November 10, 2017

The 2018 City Budget

Last night, there was a special Common Council meeting to receive the proposed 2018 budget. It seemed at first, the meeting couldn't happen since there were only four aldermen present--Tiffany Garriga (Second Ward), Robert Donahue (Fifth Ward), Michael O'Hara (First Ward), and Rick Rector (First Ward)--and there was no quorum. Abdus Miah (Second Ward) arrived late, having been summoned by phone. It's unclear if his presence was enough to make a quorum, but it didn't matter. At that point, it had already been determined that a quorum was not required simply to receive the budget.

The budget for 2018 presented to the Council last night by Mayor Tiffany Martin Hamilton sees a 5.45 percent overall increase in spending. The biggest increases--aside from the City's contribution to Hudson Area Library, which will more than double from $120,000 to $250,000--are for the Youth Department, which will see a 41.2 percent increase, and Law/Attorney, which will increase 46.1 percent from last year to cover the anticipated costs of ongoing litigation. There will also be a 14.1 percent increase in the budget for animal control to fund an animal enumeration project, intended to ensure dog owners' compliance with local licensing requirements.

Some departments will see a decrease in their budgets, the greatest being a 47.4 percent decrease for the Senior Center, because the City will no longer have to pay the Galvan Foundation $50,000 a year, as it has in 2016 and 2017, for outfitting the space in Galvan Armory.

The proposed budget also raises the mayor's salary from $45,000 to $60,000, the level it was in 2005. Hamilton explained that the mayor's salary had been "adjusted in prior years to accommodate pension requirements." She also made the point that the mayor, who is the chief executive officer for the City, is paid less than any other department head, as illustrated by this bar graph.

The increase would make the mayor's salary about equal to the treasurer's salary, which is $60,148.

Rector, the mayor elect who is now an alderman, said of the proposed salary increase, "This is very awkward for me," and stated his intention of recusing himself from the vote on the budget.

The presentation of the budget concluded with the following bullet points, which present "The Big Picture."
  • While many think the tax cap is 2%, the maximum allowable annual tax cap is actually determined using a complex, multi-step calculation. The maximum allowable increase for 2018 is 5%, but we are pleased to present the Council with a 3% ($149,017) increase, while still providing significant improvements across City departments.
  • $408,554 is taken from the fund balance to achieve a balanced budget.
  • Year-over-year expenditures are increasing 5.45%, versus a 2.52% increase last year.
  • Total expenditures are increasing by $577,100 from $10,588,605 to $11,165,715.
  • In addition to identifying cost savings in various departments, we are able to keep the tax increase low with the following anticipated revenue increases (based on trends and the newly enacted lodging tax):
  • $100,000 increase in sales tax revenue
  • $10,000 increase in Planning Board fees
  • $30,000 increase in Amtrak parking lot permit fees
  • $10,000 increase in building permit fees
  • $240,000 in lodging tax revenue and $7,000 in lodging tax registration fees (note that half of the lodging tax revenue will be added to the City's general fund, and the other half set aside for use by the Tourism Board to promote and market tourism)
  • In every department and for every building, utilities costs are decreased to reflect the downward trend we saw in 2017 as a result of cancellation of all Viridian contracts.
Audience member Steve Dunn questioned why money was being taken from the fund balance in order to balance the budget, suggesting that doing so was not sustainable. Treasurer Heather Campbell explained that the City now has a policy in place to control how much needs to be in the fund balance to ensure that the City is neither putting itself in fiscal jeopardy nor taking more from taxpayers than is necessary. She pointed out that the fund balance is now higher than it needs to be, and taking $408,554 from the fund balance will put it back within the parameters.

There will be a public hearing on the budget on Monday, November 13, at 5:30, at City Hall. Prior to the hearing, all budget documents will be available online at the City of Hudson website. There will also be link on the website to the budget data presented in OpenGov.


  1. Point of clarification:!the increase in library funding does not come out of the City budget, nor does it affect the tax cap. The Library has its own tax cap and funding comes directly from taxpayers to the library.

    1. Miranda, I am confused by your assertion that the additional funding to the library is not included as an expense in the City budget. Unless the library has some mechanism by which they bill and collect taxes to/from property owners, then the contribution runs through the City budget. To account for the additional $130k contribution (bringing the total annual expense to $250k), the City includes the contribution in the total budget, and that total determines the tax levy required to, along with all general fund revenues and a dip into the fund balance, fund all general expenses (i.e. everything but water, sewer, and cemetery). $130k represents about a 2.6% tax levy increase. We were able to identify ways to in part offset that impact, with reductions to other proposed expenses and increases to non-property tax revenues, to come to a 3% levy increase (meaning there will only be $70k in additional property tax revenue to help fund the increase in expenses proposed in almost every departmental budget, as well as contractual expenses like benefits and retirement contributions).

      It may be right that the library contribution is treated as an exclusion in the City's tax cap calculation, meaning it wouldn't impact the maximum allowable tax levy increase. The City historically has not taken the current $120k contribution as an exclusion when doing prior years' calculations.

      If we're mistaken and there is some other way the $130k contribution is handled, please reach out to me ASAP so we can make necessary adjustments.

    2. I will reach out to you directly. Thanks!

    3. Not that my opinion is needed, but to me the library funding is like the school funding. Both are run by independent bodies, with their own statutory tax base over which the City has no control. Thus it makes no sense to include the library revenues and spending (except spending which the City Council authorizes if any).

      But just because it makes no sense to include it in the City budget does not mean that it shouldn't be. I would check with the DOS for its opinion, and check out what other cities do. One should never assume that NY law provides for the sensible. It often does not in my experience! :)

    4. To clear up any confusion that may have arisen about the funding that Hudson voters appropriated for the Library at the election, we went back to the law to clarify: It turns out that BEA was correct that the increased Library funding appropriated by the voters does flow through the City budget, and the City can offset the increase by reductions or added income in other parts of the budget. However, a tax increase to cover the library support is excluded from the City tax cap because the Library has its own tax cap.

  2. The Library is grateful to Hudson property taxpayers and we look forward to being open 7 days a week in the coming year. If you have not yet visited the new Library - do stop by for reading, high speed Internet, or one of our hundreds of free programs and community meetings.

  3. As a member of the History Room Committee, and someone who weighed in on a recent library expenditure to the point of seeking bids (I refer to the continuous saga of the History Room cabinets), I can attest that the library administration is wasteful and disorganized with the resources it already has.

    Before the money was spent for the most recent cabinets (money that needlessly went out of the county), I confronted a library staffer about their serial omission of the truth relating to the purchase.

    Harsh, defensive words followed: "ARE YOU CALLING ME A LIAR?!! ARE YOU CALLING ME A LIAR?!!" To this I answered, "Do you want me to call you a liar? Okay then, you're a liar."

    Wrong answer. The next day I discovered that I was the subject of an internal "incident report," in which the way I folded my arms or gesticulated was labeled a microaggression.

    To the disgraceful behavior that I witnessed, I promptly issued my own incident report to the Library Board, explaining the details of a case which was, first and foremost, a fiscal issue.

    I was never dignified with a reply. I'd see Board members around town, and their cheerful greetings were nervous, and false. (Of course I'd never mention the subject with anyone outside of a formal library context.)

    These are the reasons why I voted against the money for the library. First, I'd want to see if the library can be responsible with the money that it has already. Right now it isn't, which is an age-old reason to ask for more.

    It was a kindness of me to wait until after the election before writing about this, but if the initial lashing-out that I experienced was any indication (not an unusual reaction from people who get caught), then I fully expect more vicious attacks on my reputation to have mentioned it at all.

    So thank you, neighbors, for committing my money to the further mismanagement of library staff and Board members when I'm perfectly capable of managing my money on my own.

    1. The library gifted their historic asset to Galvan for less than they had invested in it. Financial wizards they are not.

  4. This is the sixth thanksgiving hunting season, where the wharf at North Dock has been rendered near useless and still no line item to promote tourism to Hudson and Greenport's stolen shore, the Middle Ground Flats...

    1. You can install that aluminum ramp any time you want. If you don't want to ask the City for favors, then just run it off the railroad property. What has changed is that you may now access the ramp through City property.

      C'mon, you're not even making an effort. Even by your own accounting the circumstances have changed for the better, and substantially too. Your complaints are pretty thin at this point. It almost seems like you just want someone else to do the actual work for you.

      Here are a few suggestions: put in the ramp; build better floats; help clean up the litter that's accruing back there; make the site useful; stop complaining; thank the mayor; chip in; be proud.

    2. Six seasons ago there were volunteers maintaining the place until a handful of whiney first warders ran down to Gander Mountain and put kayaks on lay away.

      You should realize by now that maintenance requires tin boats. You and your ilk have murdered the place, it no longer functions as a wharf.

      Now you and Tiff, suggest trading Captain Bowers for Captain Bernockie, brilliant!

    3. Let me educate you; when Hurricane Sandy hit, the city's fencing and no trespassing signs (completely) blocked entry from the road and made impossible any effort to save our floats by water.

      Now you say build new ones???

      When the British needed ports for many ships, there was no king and nobody would invest if when the king did arrive he could simply expropriate. So ancient British laws of navigation were amended and the American shore was given, to the stewards.

      What if some next mayor decides to put the fences back up just to exchange stewards? What then?