From the Supervisor's Desk
As your Town Supervisor I thought it might be helpful to provide residents with an overview of the Town of Wheatland’s budget process while also sharing some background information regarding differences in the financial obligations and operational authority between our Town municipality and the Village of Scottsville.
Examples are provided as clarifications where appropriate. Here are the intended highlights of this article:
1. Towns and Villages are separate and distinct government municipalities in New York State (NYS) that exist to provide services to specific groups of residents as defined by NYS laws and regulations.
2. Agreements and contracts can be developed between municipalities, but the Town cannot dictate nor get involved in Village decisions, budgeting or actions.
3. NYS has established different budget time tables for each type of municipality, which can complicate how Towns and Villages collaborate.
4. The Town Government provides some services for all Town residents and some services that only cover Town residents who live outside of the Village of Scottsville, and yet other set of services for Special Districts. Taxes, funds and fees for these different types of services should not be mixed per NYS laws.
5. The Town of Wheatland local government works diligently and prudently to provide quality services and infrastructure for the community in an affordable manner.
A. Town and Village Municipalities
There are times as Supervisor, when I hear residents suggest that “the Town should be able to do such and such within the Village”. Although the Village of Scottsville lies within the boundaries of the Town of Wheatland, it is a separate municipality with its own administration. At some point in our past, resident’s “chose” to have a Village, therefore, the Village of Scottsville was created with its own governing body, budget, taxation and authority. Neither the Town Board, nor the Town Supervisor, have jurisdiction in, or over, the Village. The Town and Village each have their own municipal budgets with monies earmarked for discrete functions, reserves and debt. Agreements and contracts can be developed between the two municipalities, but the Town cannot dictate nor get involved in Village decisions, budgeting or actions. Only by invitation or mutual decision could the Town become involved in this manner. Even at that point, the Town would need to ensure that it follows NYS rules pertaining to proper use of tax dollars and jurisdictional authority. Both the Town and the Village have NYS laws to follow, budgeting processes to comply with and guidance documents from the State which serve as our “maps to successful governing” (use this link for information regarding the NYS Division of Local Government Services).
All Village residents are also Town residents, BUT not all Town residents are Village residents. Hence the Town’s budget is divided into a section that covers the entire Town (both in work and in taxes) and another section that covers just that area of the Town located outside of the Village of Scottsville (both in work and in taxes) and Special Districts (use this link for further details on these services, functions and budget categories). The Town cannot use Town tax funds from one area of the budget to assist another area of the Town (or Village). Comments that circulate the community about the Town of Wheatland not paving the Scottsville Fire Department (SFD) driveway area is a perfect example. Except for mutual aid, the SFD serves only part of the Town, designated as the “Wheatland Fire Protection District”. The other part of Town is served by the “Mumford Fire District”. Therefore, the Town cannot simply just “redo the SFD driveway” because the SFD only services a part of the overall Town as well as the fact that the residents in that fire protection district contribute annually to SFD facility maintenance reserves. All this is financed by a special district of the budget. The Town would be able to assist the Village in such an endeavor if the Town’s labor is reimbursed and supplies are provided. In that event we could use Town equipment and skills in compliance with NYS regulations without the risk of a government audit issue. The solutions could appear simple to the general public but both the Village and the Town officials know that the NYS rules are layered and routine audits can be anticipated.
B. Budget Differences and Challenges for the Town and Village NYS has established different budget timeframes for each type of municipality. The Town's fiscal year operates on a calendar year basis, while the Village’s fiscal year coincides with Albany’s financial year. This difference adds challenges to municipal agreements where money is budgeted and paid via contract. The Town’s budget cycle runs from January to December while the Village budget cycle goes from June 1 to May 31 of the following calendar year. Such was the issue with the CHS contract. A recent article was written that referred to the Town as not "coordinating" with the Village. I was personally invited to two meetings over the course of the approximate three to four years of planning for a transition in ambulance coverage. During 2017 it was noted in the Village Board Meeting minutes that progress was being made with CHS to ensure ambulance coverage with sufficient staffing (this had become an issue with the SFD volunteer crew) and increased level of service (ALS or advanced life support was added). As the Town had to meet the 2017 budget deadline by September 2016, a contract needed to be secured prior to any Village action in order to determine the appropriate tax figure for the Town to charge district residents. Note that between 2016 and 2018, the Town’s ambulance costs for the fire protection district has been reduced from about $50,000 with SFD to approximately $30,000 with CHS. It was not about a lack of “coordination” but rather about ensuring that affordable and available service was secured within the Town’s budget time line with the general understanding that the Village was working toward the same ultimate goal.
C. Town Budget and Financial Management
The Town works on its budget during August and September by sending out forms to departments (use this link for more details of the budgeting process and a summary of the 2018 budget). The forms/requests are reviewed with an eye on tax rates, revenues lost and gained and the overall strategic plan to move projects forward. The Town Board weighs in on these areas and a tentative budget is presented to the Town Clerk by September 20th, as mandated by NYS. The chart at the right depicts values for the constituent parts of the 2018 Town budget as described below.
The “A” part of the Town budget (Town Wide) totally funds departments and services that cover both the Town and the Village. These include the Assessor, Historian, Recreation, Senior Center, Court, Dog Control Officer, Supervisor, Town Board, Town Clerk, Deputy Clerk, Budget Officer and Town Attorney. This part of our 2018 budget also includes $128,925 to help cover the cost of the Scottsville Free Library. The Town provides maintenance, utilities and housing of the Mumford branch of the Library that is above and beyond the direct amount paid to them as noted above. The Wheatland Municipal Building Bond and Interest is also totally funded by the “A” part of the Town budget. Per agreement with the Village of Scottsville, the renovation was financed across the entire Town, and the Village is only charged 25% (amount of floor space utilized) of the building’s utilities. In 2017 the Village’s portion of the building’s utilities cost came out to about $2,700. The Village is not responsible for emergency building repairs, supplies or ongoing maintenance of the building or parking lot; however, these functions are supported by Village residents through the Town-wide part of the Town’s budget. The Wheatland Municipal Building serves as a centralized location for all local governmental services to our residents.
The “B” part of the Town budget (Town Outside of Village) supports services to those residing outside of the Village of Scottsville. This is currently the Building Department and Fire Marshall Services. Our Building Inspector also provides half time services to another west side town through an agreement which is financially beneficial to both towns.
Special Districts are for water (2), light (1) refuse (3) and fire protection (1). The fire protection district is served by SFD through a contract with the Village. This contract not only covers fire service but also about 47% of the bond and interest for the Fire Building itself. A percentage of salary and benefits of the clerk’s office, Village Board and Mayor (the SFD Commissioners), building maintenance, reserve funds and insurance costs are also included in fees paid to the Village for this service. Only the residents who live in the special district are charged and taxed for this benefit. The other half of Town is provided fire service by the Mumford Fire Department as a distinct fire district. This means that it is its own taxing body with its own elected commissioners (volunteer). The Town has no say in their budget and only serves as a tax collecting agent for the district. The district residents vote annually on the Mumford Fire District budget.
The Town Highway Department has both part “A” and part “B” expenses in the Town budget. They plow Main Street in the Village and all of North Road as part of their role in plowing State and County roads within our Town, while receiving reimbursement for both services. The same is true for road maintenance when requested. Other highway functions are financed by determining whether they benefit only those who are an “outside Village resident” or not. For example, brush pick up is managed outside the Village (part B of the budget) because the Village provides its own service. Use this link for further details regarding Town Government services and functions.
In terms of generating revenue, like many other municipalities, the Town has faced a challenge over the last several years. Town Court revenues have been relied on in the past to help cover Part A section of the budget (for all residents) and assist us in offsetting tax increases. However, Town Court revenues have dropped 50% in the last few years. Between ticket reductions and an increase in the percentage of revenue required to be sent to NYS, there is less for the Town to use to offset its day to day expenses. This has a significant impact on a municipality which is about 75-80% agricultural in its land use.
Regarding refuse and recycling services, the Town of Wheatland has secured a contract at $200/household for a 3 year period for all three Town refuse districts. By contracting for these services, the Town has no vehicles to purchase and maintain, no dumping fees to pay, no salaries and benefits to consider, and no insurance and Workmen's Compensation costs to compute.
Town residents who live outside the Village of Scottsville continue to see direct cost savings through the Monroe County sales tax revenue sharing arrangement (use this link for further details). If you live outside the Village and look at your most recent Town/County tax bill there is a line which shows an amount taken off your taxes. This is because the Town utilizes only a portion of the sales tax revenue to support the Town budget and has the County provide the majority of the “sales tax sharing” revenue as a direct offset to residents’ taxes. In 2017 the Towns direct share accounted for $90,000 in revenue to the Town. The Town also continues to maintain the philosophy of not adding any tax onto a resident’s utility bill. Some municipalities have done this as a “city tax” in order to add revenue without increasing taxes and often also receive direct payment for all sales tax revenues. The Town does neither.
Town and Village Offices have been operating in the Wheatland Municipal Building for 11 years now while the Town dutifully works to decrease the debt incurred to renovate and develop this
attractive, repurposed Main Street building. This year’s principal and interest payment was $80,663 with 13 years left on the loan. As the Town Government looks forward to ultimately eliminating this debt, discussions are in process regarding options for an improved, modern and safer highway facility. When the financial reserve levels are right, the debt level is lower or eliminated, and the plans are appropriate, the next step forward will be taken to enhance our vintage old highway garage and embrace other projects to improve our community.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article and for wanting to learn more about how YOUR Town Government works.