Verona’s 2018 municipal budget was introduced at Monday night’s Town Council meeting and it was a change for the better from what the Council had been considering during its March 12 workshop, which is an unofficial presentation of the budget.
The municipal tax levy–the amount that must be raised from taxes to fund the budget–fell to $16,323,920 from $16,475,920 in the workshop version. The new tax levy will be a 2.76% increase from 2017’s budget, down from a 3.72% increase in the workshop budget. Verona has had three years of minimal increases to the tax levy and a flat tax rate. The municipal tax increase on the average property fell from $115 to $88 in the budget as introduced. Most of the increase in the 2018 budget is due to increased debt service on the Hilltop turf fields and the renovation of the Verona Public Library.
The changes to the 2018 budget were made possible by a $132,000 cut to expenses and a $20,000 increase to revenues, with most of the expense cuts coming from sharply lower budget lines for overtime. The Verona Police Department lost $25,000 in overtime and the Verona Buildings and Grounds Department saw its overtime cut by $20,000. The Council has been putting pressure on the VPD and municipal services to slash their use of overtime, and, during the workshop, several Council members were highly critical of the VPD’s handling of overtime in 2017.
There were also some sharp words at the budget introduction after Verona’s chief financial officer, Matt Laracy, explained how the town arrives at its fund balance, or surplus. Deputy Mayor Michael Nochimson tried to assert that Verona’s budget lines are disguised or distorted to create the surplus but that was refuted by Roman and Mayor Kevin Ryan, and Councilman Jack McEvoy noted that the many structural changes that Verona has made to town government will lower our cost of government in the long term. Councilman Ted Giblin expressed concern over cuts to services, which prompted Township Manager Matt Cavallo to note that Verona has not cut services. “We have changed the way the services are provided,” he said, by altering many positions in town government. “Some of those jobs went away years ago,” Cavallo said.
Councilman Nochimson also wanted the town to set up separate reserves for different project from the revenue coming off the Hilltop apartment PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes. But Mayor Ryan noted that that would require moving funds out of the general budget, which could increase taxes. (Cavallo had given a detailed explanation of how the PILOT revenues work at the February 20 Council meeting.) “When you set the revenue stream,” Ryan asked of Laracy, “where do you put the PILOT money?” “As anticipated revenue,” Laracy responded. “So if you took it from anticipated revenue and put it into a reserve fund as the deputy mayor is suggesting, is that going to leave a hole in your revenue stream?” Ryan asked. “We’d have to find somewhere else to cover that cost,” Laracy answered.
But Nochimson was not dissuaded from his view of reserves, which finally drew a rebuke from Roman: “Michael, if you have a $10,000 balance on your credit card you don’t start putting money away to buy a boat.”
The overview by Verona’s chief financial officer, Matt Laracy, begins here at the 1 hour 7 minute mark of the meeting. You can watch the entire meeting in the video below. The public hearing and Council vote on the 2018 budget will be on Monday, April 16.