By Michael DePietro
The Town of Wheatfield unanimously approved its preliminary 2021 budget on Monday.
The budget shows $13,915,791 in appropriations, a decrease of $360,831 from the 2020 adopted budget.
The town’s estimated revenues for the year are $8,609,095, down $264,546 from the previous year, and the approximate fund balance of $1.45 million is down $150,000. Both are largely attributable to the ongoing pandemic.
The 2021 preliminary budget does include a slight tax increase. Budget Director Ed Mongold explained the necessity succinctly at the last budget presentation, saying, “This tax increase is basically 100% attributable to the garbage district. The cost of garbage pickup has increased by almost $290,000 since 2019.”
He went on to break down the numbers further saying, “For a typical homeowner that’s assessed at $125,000, the tax levy increase would be $7.99 on an annual basis. The total taxes would increase from $514.91 to $522.96. That represents a 1.55% increase,” Mongold said.
The tax levy will increase by $53,715 (from $3,802,981 to 3,856,696), representing a 1.41% increase, which is below the statewide tax cap of 1.56%.
Supervisor Don MacSwan applauded the efforts of Mongold and other town officials for their work on the budget. He also noted the town was recently rated Aa3 by Moody’s Investors Service – the fourth highest rating in their Long-term Corporate Obligation Rating system. Obligations rated Aa3 are judged to be of high quality and are subject to very low credit risk, per the Moody’s website.
“We’ve done our best and all of our department heads have returned money back to the budget as a cost savings to the Town of Wheatfield in our tough time, like all the other communities are having too,” MacSwan said. “I want to thank all of our department heads for their contributions to make it work for us, and again, if it wasn’t for garbage costs going up, that’s what makes it very difficult as we all know.”
Among the night’s motions, the board passed a resolution allowing volunteer firefighters to accrue five additional points each month during a state disaster emergency for the Volunteer Firefighters Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP). The move coincides with New York state’s recent amendment to the General Municipal Law.
St. Johnsburg Fire Co. President Michael Heffron explained that due to COVID-19, it has become difficult for volunteer firefighters in the Town of Wheatfield to accumulate the necessary points to remain in the program and accumulate a pension. Points are accrued in a number of ways, fighting fires being only one. Numerous safety meetings and fundraisers, which traditionally have allowed for points to be allotted, have been cancelled during the pandemic.
Heffron said the points program is a vital incentive that drives up volunteerism.
The board also passed a resolution to establish a capital reserve fund to finance the costs of various types of parks and recreational equipment.
MacSwan took a moment to explain the move.
“Instead of trying to take it out of one budget – we found out this year how difficult it is when money is tight – this will set money aside over a period of years to (make a large equipment purchase),” MacSwan said. “Speaking with our recreation director (Mike Renali), as the equipment starts to age, whether it be playground equipment, etc., as time goes on, we’ll have money set aside. So instead of trying to take the money out of a single budget to supplement or replace playground equipment or any other equipment, we’ll have money set aside and it won’t be such a burden on the town.”