Mayor Steve Noble’s proposed 2018 budget would freeze the city’s tax levy for the second year in a row, creating a small decline in the tax rate for most Kingston property owners.
City Comptroller John Tuey said a projected increase in sales tax revenue and grant funding has allowed the city to maintain the tax freeze while absorbing some $1 million in additional spending. Noble’s budget proposal would also create new positions focused on technical support, arts and culture and health and wellness.
Noble’s budget proposal, unveiled at a City Hall press conference on Tuesday, calls for a total of $42,519,586 in appropriations for 2018, compared to $41,467,784 in the 2017 spending plan.
The tax levy, meanwhile, will remain virtually unchanged from 2016’s $17,650,940. Tax rates per thousand dollars of assessed value will fall from $10.10 this year to $9.95 next year for residential properties and from $18.13 to $17.36 for commercial “non-homestead” parcels.
Noble’s budget, which must be approved by the Common Council by the end of the year, uses $934,000 in reserve funds to push down the tax levy. The drawdown, according to Tuey, will leave the city comfortably above the 10 percent of the total budget that has been a traditional benchmark for the reserve fund.
Noble praised both the city’s 300 employees and a budget that maintained all current services and staff while holding the line on taxes. Noble said prudent fiscal management had allowed the city to maintain services like trash pickup and yard waste pickup that other communities had abandoned or outsourced.
“We’re heading in the right direction,” said Noble.
Where it goes
In his presentation, Noble broke down the allocation of the $1,493 in city property taxes paid by the owner of a $150,000 home under his proposed budget. Nearly half the tax bill, Noble said, went towards public safety, with the Police Department accounting for $394 and the Fire Department another $297. Department of Public Works services took up $265 of the theoretical tax bill, while “general government” services like the planning, city clerk and mayor’s office accounted for another $165. Seventy-two dollars went to parks and recreation services. The largest expenditure on non-departmental items was $133 for retiree medical expenses. Service on the city’s debt took up $93 while another $36 was allocated to the city’s reserve fund.
Noble’s budget also calls for creating a handful of new positions. Noble said he hoped to eliminate a currently vacant police officer job to pay for the addition of a new full-time position in the city’s IT department. The move, Noble said, would allow the city to dedicate a technology specialist to work full time with the Kingston Police Department.
“A world of body cameras, and dash camera videos used in courts has really changed policing and it has changed that need,” said Noble.
Noble’s budget also calls for the creation of two new part-time positions. A part-time “health and wellness” specialist would help coordinate a number of programs added in recent years under the “Live Well Kingston” initiative. The position will be fully funded for two years through a grant from the Novo foundation. Another part-time position will be created for an “arts and culture coordinator” to support the city’s blossoming arts sector. A third new part-time position will go to an “environmental asset manager.” The new post will build on a previous effort to create a database of all city vehicles, equipment, furniture and other assets. The manager will be charged with tracking the inventory and scheduling maintenance or replacement of aging equipment.
The city will also take on payment of a full-time code enforcement officer in the Building and Safety division of the Kingston Fire Department that had previously been funded with grant money. The new hires will be partially offset by the elimination of part-time posts for a parking enforcement officer and a legislative clerk for the Common Council.
Some new stuff
Noble’s proposed capital plan — spending on big-ticket items paid with city bonds — emphasizes increasing efficiency across city departments and replacing aging equipment. Among the proposed expenditures in the $1.87 million capital plan are $450,000 to replace an aging fire engine and $335,000 for an automated packer truck that will allow garbage pickup with less manpower. Another $10,000 will pay for a flat-bed scanner that will allow thousands of plans and blueprints submitted to the building department annually to be stored electronically. Another $90,000 in the capital plan will go towards garbage and recycling totes, while $710,000 is directed towards new vehicles for the Department of Public Works.
As part of his budget proposal, Noble also introduced a new plan for “participatory budgeting” of $30,000 in new revenue anticipated from payment kiosks in city parking lots. The decision to meter the lots, which had provided free parking, was one of the more controversial moves of Noble’s first term. Residents, employees and owners of Uptown businesses complained that the new parking fees would be onerous for those forced to park in the neighborhood every day. In response, Noble introduced $10 parking permits for regular users of the lots. The permits expire on Dec. 31.
Noble said that he would leave it to the Common Council to determine whether to continue the permit plan and, if so, what to charge. But, he said, his budget contained a $60,000 line item for revenues generated by the new payment kiosks. Noble added that the kiosks, which went live earlier this month, are currently generating about $200 per day in revenue. Of that $60,000, Noble said, he planned to set $30,000 aside for his participatory budgeting experiment.
Under the plan, the city’s Uptown, Midtown and Rondout business districts would each be allocated $10,000 for projects like beautification and streetscape improvements. Projects would be funded based on input from the community in public forums and polls.
“I want this money to be invested back into our business districts and I want you to have a say in how that money is spent,” said Noble.
Noble’s budget still needs approval from the Common Council. The Council’s Finance Committee is expected to begin meetings this week to go over the spending plan with department heads and other city staff. Over the next six weeks, the council will have a chance to alter the proposal before taking a final vote on Tuesday, Dec. 5.