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Council Reviews White Plains Proposed Budget

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- The common council and budget and management advisory board discussed ways to bring the proposed 5 percent tax rate hike down while reviewing the preliminary $152.4 million budget Monday.

Council member Milagros Lecuona asked the budget staff if there were “areas where we can do better,” noting that the all-Democratic council typically trims the rate. The current plan to tax property owners $184.92 per $1,000 of their property’s value would bump up the median single family home’s bill from $118 to $2,478.

Budget Director and Finance Commissioner Michael Genito noted that a $2.9 million increase in the state-set pension cost drove up the tax rate nearly 6 percent, meaning prior years’ layoffs and other cuts helped keep the tax rate increase to 5 percent. The city is eliminating 16 unfilled positions on top of the 74 unfilled positions and 86 filled jobs that have been cut since the end of 2009.

“We’re now at a level where the positions are about as low as you can go without having some impact on the level of services,” Genito said. “We will of course continue our hiring restrictions. That is whenever a position becomes vacant, we seek to take as much time as we need to fill that position. And we seriously look at that position to see if it might be eliminated or reduced in some way.”

At least $5 million from the tax stabilization fund will be used to reduce the tax rate, according to Genito. Although the city anticipates restoring that $5 million by the end of 2012, some worried more money should be kept in the reserves to help White Plains upgrade the “negative outlook” on the Aa1 bond rating it was given by Moody’s Investors Service.

“You’re literally treading water,” said Timothy Sheehan, a budget and management advisory board member and vice chair of the city’s Republican party. “You’re not building up the fund balance.”

Mayor Thomas Roach argued that “treading water is almost like an Olympic sport right now” given property owners’ continuing to challenge their tax bills, a new state law limiting the tax levy increase to 2 percent and the lackluster economy.

The proposed budget halts previous years’ use of debt to pay tax challenges, which Genito said should help bolster the city’s bond ratings.

The budget would add a new youth swimming program, basketball organization and family camp-out at Delfino Park, that are expected to pay for their costs.

However, expanded services may come with higher fees . The city is considering raising summer camp costs by $25 to $30, charging $5 more for youth tennis programs, and increasing the youth bureau’s after-school connection program price by $27.

Higher fees in building department and public works are anticipated.

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