The 2014 budget approved unanimously by the City Council last month illustrates a significant improvement in New Rochelle’s fiscal health.  The highlights of the new budget include:

•            An increase in our fund balance.  The fund balance – essentially the City’s savings account – had been gradually drawn down during the past few years in order to shield taxpayers from the full impact of the Great Recession.  Now we are beginning to build the fund balance back up.

•            Reasonable, long-term contracts for our municipal employees, as negotiated by our management team and union leadership during recent months.

•            A relatively small increase in the property tax levy of less than 2%, which meets the terms of the State tax cap.  New Rochelle continues to have the lowest municipal tax rate of the comparable cities of Westchester.

•            Full funding for anticipated certiorari payments, ending a period during which certioraris were funded through the issuance of debt.

•            Significant investment in infrastructure, including a major upgrade of traffic management and signalization downtown, funded primarily by federal and state grants.

•            Implementation of many of the recommendations of the Citizens’ Panel on Sustainable Budgets, which charted a course for enhanced efficiency on multiple fronts.

You can read the full budget at this link.  (But please keep in mind that this document is the draft budget proposed by the City Manager in November.  The City Council approved several amendments prior to adopting a final budget, notably a lower tax rate.)

All in all, relatively good news.  But I do want to emphasize that word “relatively.” Although our fiscal health has clearly improved, we continue to face ongoing challenges, and without revenue growth, New Rochelle will be forced to confront difficult choices and/or shortchanged services in the years ahead.

That’s why economic development must remain a vital priority, and why we must also continue exploring models that can cut costs without compromising service quality, including shared service agreements across municipalities.