Kingston mayor Steve Noble credits strong fiscal discipline and higher-than-anticipated revenues for a windfall in the city’s reserve fund that will pay for additional paving projects this summer. But his Republican opponent in this fall’s election cites the city’s robust fund balance as evidence of overtaxation of Kingston property owners.
“To allude there is a $1.1-million surplus now and some $350,000 will be earmarked for paving eight additional streets during an election year is preposterous,” wrote Republican mayoral candidate Ellen DiFalco in an email to Kingston Times. “Don’t be fooled by this smoke-and-mirrors tactic.” |
According to city officials, the 2018 fiscal year ended with a $1.1-million increase in the fund balance of the municipal general fund. State guidelines and the city’s own fiscal policy call for maintaining the reserve fund at between ten and 13 percent of the overall city budget, roughly between $4 and $5 million. The increase in the fund balance is closer to 17 percent.
Noble has asked the Common Council to spend some of the surplus in the current budget cycle. He wants to use $390,000 of the reserve fund to pay down a high-interest amortization loan, which he says will save taxpayers’ money over the long run. Another $350,000 would pay for repaving of eight streets, including all Washington Avenue, which had been scheduled for work next year.
Noble said that the paving projects would be the first time in recent memory that the city had entirely self-funded paving projects. Paving is usually funded by about $600,000 in state aid The city pays matching funds for the paving associated with major grants-funded projects.
“Traditionally, we don’t use local funds for paving,” said Noble. “And after a couple of decades of that philosophy you have what we have now, which is a lot of work.”
For the surplus, Noble credited strong fiscal discipline by department heads, a city policy of not filling vacant positions unless and until it became necessary, cost savings associated with retirements of senior employees, and higher-than-expected sales-tax revenues.
“You do these things internally throughout the year, and it leads to a little surplus,” explained Noble. “Now the focus is on spending it in the most effective way we can to benefit the taxpayers.”
This is the second year fiscal year in a row that the city has ended with a surplus in the fund balance. Last year, the money was spent on paying down debt and buying new police vehicles with cash rather than with short-term bonds.
DiFalco said that the city’s year-end windfalls were a sign that the budget is being inflated to provide a backdoor route to spend additional taxpayer money. DiFalco, who is challenging Noble for the mayor’s office, said that she regularly attends meetings of the council’s finance committee, at which department heads have appeared to request additional funding. She called city comptroller John Tuey, who has served under three mayors, “a grandmaster illusionist when it comes to deceiving taxpayers” and called Noble’s praise for his staff’s fiscal discipline “ludicrous.”
Noble defended Tuey’s handling of the budget. The city has not increased the property-tax levy since he took office in 2016, Noble said. Criticism that his administration was somehow manipulating the budget, he continued, was belied by the fact that each budget was developed publicly and in partnership with the Common Council.
“Personally, I think it’s better to err on the side of caution and have a little extra money at the end of the year than to have to go back to taxpayers and say, ‘Now we have a deficit and we’re heading towards bankruptcy,’ ” said Noble.