Third in a series on the 2011 budget.
First of all, there is often confusion about who is responsible for your overall property tax bill, because the taxes from different government entities — City, County, School, Library, and Sewer Districts — are all combined on one bill. The portion reflected in the New Rochelle budget and voted on by the Mayor and City Council accounts for less than 18% of that total.
Property Tax Bill Breakdown (2010)
For the average New Rochelle property owner, the total tax bill in 2010 was $16,182, of which just $2,895 goes to City government. (County taxes for 2011 have not yet been determined, but the basic percentages here will be consistent next year.)
Also, the property tax levy is not the only source of revenue for the City, though it does constitute the largest single source.
Revenue Sources (2011 Proposed)
The property tax levy is, however, the only source of revenue over which the City Council has direct and immediate control: we cannot increase the sales tax rate; we cannot control how many people will park illegally and pay their tickets; and, though we work aggressively to secure funding from the County, State and federal level, the provision of aid and grants is always uncertain.
Now let’s look at how New Rochelle’s budget distributes these funds.
Expenses by Department (2011 Proposed)
Full-time Staffing by Department (2011 Proposed)
Because it is the primary function of our city government, municipal spending on public safety — police, fire, and emergency services — exceeds that on all other City functions combined. Accordingly, the police and fire departments also account for the lion’s share of the municipal workforce.
To look at it another way, the City spends more on public safety than it collects in property taxes.
Comparison of Major Segments (2011 Proposed)
In effect, every property tax dollar directed to City Hall pays for police and fire protection — period. The remainder of municipal government is paid for through other sources of revenue.
So you can think of the City tax bill as an insurance premium. You probably don’t use police or fire services on a regular basis — you may not even draw upon these services at all during your life in New Rochelle. But the availability of a swift, professional response in the event of an emergency — a break-in, a fire, a heart attack, a flood — justifies your annual investment. And, of course, adequate safety is vital to overall property values, economic development, civic image, and your sense of comfort at home, so the benefits of this expense are broad.
Outside of public safety, Public Works is our largest department, providing several services that are critical to the basic functioning of the City, such as sanitation, snow removal, and leaf pick-up.
Over the years, the City has been able to achieve significant efficiencies in this department and has greatly reduced the level of personnel, from over 200 employees in 1980 to a proposed 123 in 2011. But there is an irreducible manpower requirement for the bare-bones delivery of these services — and we are now at that level.
Social services tend to be delivered by higher levels of government, but there are still many ways in which the City government can additionally contribute to the general quality of life in New Rochelle. The Bureau of Parks & Recreation, for example, maintains the City’s many lakes, trails, parks, and playgrounds — tremendous amenities for all residents — with a facilities staff of just nine. The Youth Bureau and the Office for the Aging provide more targeted services for our residents most in need of assistance while using even fewer City resources.
Economic development is a multi-faceted challenge that involves everything from specific development deals, to a well-crafted zoning code, to visionary comprehensive and regional plans. In each case, success often depends upon the caliber and skills of the people employed for the task. We need a smart, creative in-house planning staff and also qualified outside consultants for those discrete projects that exceed our in-house capacity.
More than any other Department, Development is charged with literally shaping the City’s future, but it constitutes only a tiny fraction of our workforce — fewer than 10 planners and administrators.
Infrastructure and Equipment
Our physical assets include everything from sewer lines, to parks, to roads, to garbage trucks and fire engines. While we have been quite successful in securing grants for major local projects, such as the improvements on North Avenue and Lincoln Avenue and at City Park, one could make a strong case that our capital needs are chronically and severely underfunded, perhaps to a greater degree than any other portion of the budget.
The City’s total capital budget shows considerable variability, based on the receipt of project-specific grants. Excluding grants, we see a a clearer trend toward necessary, but highly undesirable, cuts:
Capital Projects Budget
The proposed 2011 capital budget is just $2.2 million, an entirely inadequate amount for a city of our size and with our aging infrastructure. Moreover, we invest virtually nothing in desirable, but non-essential, capital objectives, such as lake dredging or park expansion, that would enhance the physical fabric and appeal of New Rochelle.
Even with the various deficiencies noted above, I believe that the City has done a good job of managing its affairs under exceptionally difficult circumstances. Those circumstances will be described more fully in the next two posts.