by Larry Austin
The Grand Island Town Board passed a 2015 town budget at its Nov. 17 meeting that includes tax increases in the general fund and fire protection budget and raises for elected officials.
Town Supervisor Mary Cooke said the budget, divided into eight funds, has estimated tax rates. The tax levy won't change, but as the county continues to change the assessed value of property all through the year, the rate will change, she said.
The 2015 budget includes a general fund total appropriation of $7,042,606, with an amount raised by taxes of $2,275,703 that results in a rate of $1.484 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or a 2 percent increase over 2014, Cooke said.
Councilman Ray Billica said the Town Board members "have worked very hard on this budget," but he couldn't support it in its entirety.
"I'm in favor of a vast majority of this budget, but because we vote on the entire general fund part of the budget, and not separate things, I need to make a few comments that I think are necessary," Billica said before the vote. "First, I do not agree with the amount that has been decided on to fund the contract for the fire department, causing our tax rate to increase more than I believe it should.
"Second, I do not agree with denying the request of the Parks Department for additional staff. That department has seen a reduction in its maintenance workforce from five full-time employees to three full-time employees. The workload has increased and so has the expansion of our park system. Although some of the shortfall has been taken up by employing part-time workers, the efficiency and effectiveness is not equivalent.
"And lastly is the issue of elected officials' salaries. The decision was made to freeze salaries a number of years ago. There is a disagreement of how that freeze was and should be applied. I am in the minority on that."
Proposed 2015 salaries of elected officials are: supervisor, $69,196.32 ($66,899.52 in 2014); councilmen, $19,597 (no change over 2014); town clerk, $69,014 ($66,795.12 in 2014); highway superintendent, $86,213.83 ($84,731.04 in 2014); town justices, $43,306.62 ($42,561.79 in 2014).
Billica was the lone dissenter when the general fund budget passed 4-1.
In the fire protection district, the total appropriation is $1,280746; the amount to be raised by taxation is $1,245,996. Cooke said compared to the 2014 levy, the budget is an increase of 3.2 percent, with estimated tax rate of 78 cents per $1,000.
Councilman Chris Aronica said of the fire budget, "We struggled with this one because they do provide such a great service to the town. One of the things that came up was the need for some additional capital funding for buildings, which we can't deny."
Aronica added the GIFC and Town Board agreed to meet on a quarterly basis to share progress on capital projects. Going forward, the quarterly meeting will provide "better dialogue" in the future.
Cooke pointed out the fire protection district budget is distinct from the fire company contract with the town.
"There will also be a contract with our Grand Island volunteer fire company that will need to be approved, and that will need to happen before the end of the year because our current contract expires on Dec. 31 of 2014," Cooke said. "You'll see this again on the agenda." The budget passed, 4-1, with Billica again voting no.
The board passed the highway fund appropriation of $3,363,649 unanimously. The amount to be raised by taxation is $2,639,302; compared to 2014, the levy is a 2.5 percent increase, with an estimated tax rate of $1.72 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.
The sewer district fund budget passed 5-0 with an appropriation of $3,533,954; the amount to be raised by taxes ($957,414) is an 8.6 percent increase over last year's levy and is an estimated $3.94 per thousand land value only. The sewer rate remains the same for the fourth year in a row at $5.20 per 1,000 gallons of water used,
The water district fund budget has a total appropriation of $2,934,255; the levy is unchanged at $710,584, with an estimated tax rate per $1,000 of $2.09; the water rate remains at $2.85 per 1,000 gallons used, the fifth year at the same rate for usage. Roesch said, "This is a tremendous impetus for our life science business. They are our largest consumer of water." A reasonable rate makes Grand Island competitive in the business market statewide, he said.
General Fund Budget
Total appropriation amount: $7,042,606
Amount to be raised by taxation (levy): $2,275,703
Estimated tax rate/thousand: $1.484
Fire Protection Budget
Total appropriation amount $1,280,746
Amount to be raised by taxation (levy): $1,245,996
Estimated tax rate/thousand: $.778
Highway Fund Budget
Total appropriation amount: $3,363,649
Amount to be raised by taxation (levy): $2,639,302
Estimated tax rate/thousand: $1.721
Sewer District Fund Budget
Total appropriation amount: $3,533,954
Amount to be raised by taxation (levy): $957,414
Estimated tax rate/1,000 (land value only): $3.936
Water District Fund Budget
Total appropriation amount: $2,934,255
Amount to be raised by taxation (levy): $710,584
Estimated tax rate/1,000 (land value only): $2.092
Lighting District Budget
Total appropriation amount: (53 districts) $214,713
Amount to be raised by taxation (levy): $203,664
Tax rate: varies by district
Refuse and Garbage Budget
Total appropriation amount: $1,407,834
Amount to be raised by taxation (levy): $1,359,428
Tax rate: flat rate single family dwelling $188
Debt Service Budget
Total appropriation amount: $739,122
Transfers from other funds $660,222