Lake George Village Clerk-Treasurer Darlene Gunther (right) hands municipal budget figures to Mayor Robert Blais for his review at a village board meeting held Feb. 24. The tentative 2014-15 village budget features robust revenues to offset increased expenses, with a bottom line of no tax increase.
Despite increased health insurance costs and the payments toward a major capital project, the tentative Lake George Village 2014-15 budget calls for no tax increase.
At a lengthy meeting held Feb. 24, the Lake George Village Board reviewed and endorsed the spending plan, in effect from June 1, 2014 through May 31, 2015.
The budget, drafted primarily by Mayor Robert Blais and village Clerk-Treasurer Darlene Gunther, predicts a tax rate of $6.04 per thousand of assessed valuation, identical to the rate for 2013-14. This is the fifth year in a row the village budget has complied with the state’s so-called 2 percent tax cap.
The budget’s increase in appropriations, up from $4,250,660 in 2013-14 to $4,427,380, are offset by an increase in revenues of $2,714,925 and an allotment of $400,000 in surplus funds.
Sales tax, parking revenue offset municipal expenses
Major village revenues, other than real property taxes, continue to contribute to the Village’s excellent financial outlook, Blais said. Such revenues include sales tax of $536,000, parking fees of $690,000 and public dock fees of $19,000.
Lake George Village, along with other municipalities across the state, is facing an 8.5 percent increase in health insurance — an estimated appropriation of $311,027 — and payments for Workman’s Compensation totalling $45,000, also representing an increase.
During the upcoming year, village department heads are scheduled to each receive a $2,000 raise in their annual salary. Municipal employees are to be awarded a uniform increase of 50 cents per hour, while seasonal employees are receive a boost of half that amount.
The Village will again be contracting with the Warren County Sheriff’s Office for seasonal police protection estimated to cost $28,000. The trustees decided to employ fewer peace officers for 2014 — and decrease personnel costs of village parking enforcement officers by eliminating meter enforcement on Mondays during the summer.
Several major expenses in the budget include purchasing a new dump and plow truck for $180,000, plus two other new trucks for the public works department. Other prominent expenses are weekly fireworks at $42,000, improvements to the Shepard Park bandstand, new stone walls in its amphitheater, and a $30,000 allocation to combat aquatic invasive species.
Village now stashing money for infrastructure upgrades
The spending plan also calls for $100,000 to be set aside as an initial payment into a reserve fund for water treatment plant upgrades, plus $20,000 into a fund to underwrite future water main repairs, and $10,000 for miscellaneous water department equipment.
Billage Public Works Superintendent Dave Harrington said that a few years into the future, the village should be undertaking a project of replacing the village water main along Canada St. from Sewell St. west to Rte. 9N then north on 9N to Hearthstone Park.
The tentative budget also includes payments for a bond that bankrolls the village’s share of a $2.2 million project for major improvements to the village’s wastewater treatment plant, now being undertaken. The spending plan also includes costs of engineering design for the project’s second phase, scheduled for 2015, and expected to cost aan additional $2 million.
Both phases together are to increase capacity at the plant, boost efficiency and dramatically reduce nitrate levels in the plant’s effluent. The nitrate-laden discharges have been a topic of public concern recently, as the village planning board has been reviewing plans for the new Lake George Marriott Hotel & Conference Center. The planning board approved the plans last week.
Employees' raises, benefits spark debate
One issue of concern at Monday’s meeting was the differing percentages of health insurance premiums that various municipal employees pay, depending on their job status and date of hire.
Trustees John Root and Ray Perry said that employees’ contributions should be raised by two percentage points per year until they all reach a uniform 20 percent of the total premiums. Blais suggested that newer employees, who pay as much as 25 percent for their premiums, should be lowered to the target percentage at the same rate. The board decided to analyze the proposals.
Employees’ wage rates also sparked discussion.
Trustee Joe Mastrodomenico warned that hiring new employees with higher wages than veteran employees ignited discontent. But Harrington replied that new hires were now expecting robust benefits and higher salaries. he said that at a recent interview for two positions in Public Works, several people walked out when they heard what the salaries accompanying the positions.
Mastrodomenico countered that pay and raises should be performance-based, but Harrington replied that it was difficult to manage because of personalities, politics and subjective decision-making.
Blais said that the current system of flat, specified salaries and uniform raises was working well.
“The number of village employees leaving us to go somewhere else to work is next to zero,” he said. Trustee John Earl agreed with Blais, saying that uniform annual raises are appropriate.
“Every year, each guy is gaining experience,” he said.
But Root and Mastrodomenico noted in recent years, many business enterprises had cut salaries and increased employees’ contributions to benefits.
“In the private sector, businesses are replacing employees with new hires at half the price,” Root said. “That’s business in the real world.”
Blais countered that the village’s revenues were streaming in at a record rate, and municipal employees should get their share of the $400,000 surplus.
“When times are good is the time to reward your employees,” he said. “Our guys do everything they are asked to do.”
Proposed Marriott Hotel expected to boost village revenue
In a prepared statement, Blais said the village was financially secure, considering its surplus funds, a recently boosted bond rating and the potential of the Marriott Hotel providing new tax revenue that is expected over several years to pay for about $4.2 million in upgrades to the sewer treatment plant.
“The Village continues to be in excellent financial shape,” he said. “Revenues from our tourist-related activities are strong — and continue to pay our bills.”
The next regular meeting of the village board is set for 6 p.m. Monday March 17, at which finances and other topics are to be discussed. A special board meeting is to be held at 9:30 a.m. Thursday April 3 to approve fire department officers, and the village’s annual meeting is to be held at 4 p.m. April 14, along with a formal public hearing on the 2014-15 budget. A public hearing on rising fines for parking violations is to be held at the latter meeting.