Hudson budget for 2011 cuts tax rate, though property values rise

HUDSON–After several months of tough negotiations among the three city leaders who serve on the Board of Estimate and Apportionment — City Treasurer Eileen Halloran, Common Council President Don Moore and Mayor Richard Scalera — the three have arrived at a budget of $12,226,996 for next year.

Under the proposal, $4,552,845 will be raised in taxes on property now valued at $373 million citywide, a figure that rose 23% after a reassessment. But, thanks to $650,000 appropriated from the General Fund, which this month contains about $7.4 million, new revenue from metered parking, $50,00 in annual savings on Warren Street light poles that the city will no longer lease, and keeping nonunion salaries at 2010 levels, the tax rate will drop by 17%.

That may be good news for many taxpayers, but last week a group suing the city over the changes in value of their properties vowed to appeal a state court decision denying them an injunction against use of the new assessments.

“Times are even harder” said the mayor in his budget letter to the Common Council. He noted the unprecedented downturn of the national and state economies last year. “We need our unions to work with us,” he said, “to address the growing gap between what it costs to operate the city… and what taxpayers can afford.” Some union members have negotiated a 3% raise in the current budget while other contracts are under negotiation.

Mayor Scalera said he found “no low hanging fruit for cost savings other than personnel cuts,” but next year’s budget reveals few jobs lost. He points out that costs from pensions, healthcare and payroll, when combined with debt service and fire services amount to over three-quarters of the budget.

“Thank goodness for our volunteer Fire Department,” wrote the mayor in capital letters to emphasize the tremendous savings in tax dollars that represents.

The mayor expressed hope that Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP), which local officials hope will receive state approval in the next few months, will lead to development of the city’s waterfront, attracting taxable business, jobs and tourism.

The public will benefit from several federally funded projects that will reach completion in the coming year, among them: Charles Williams Park, Hudson River boat docks, and bikeways and walkways between Harry Howard Avenue and the center of the city.

Washington Hose Company, the future home of the Chamber of Commerce and a job counseling center, needs $350,000 worth of renovations that will be funded locally. The city’s leaders hope that an expected sale of a city owned waterfront building, The Dunn Building, for around $300,000 will offset most of the cost. The purchasers of the Dunn Building, reportedly hope to make it into a restaurant.

“Washington Hose has the potential to pull together a number of different communities at the foot of Warren St. and extend Hudson into new waterfront area,” said Mr. Moore.

A handicapped accessible kayak launch for the waterfront, and an energy management grant are also in the program for next year.

A new water sewer treatment plant, which will go online in coming year, will also generate costs for the city.

Like most individuals these days, the city does not earn much on its investments. “We don’t invest city funds in the market,” said Ms. Halloran. “The flip side is what we have used our money for. We’ve used the fund balance to avoid borrowing and paying interest for projects like the street lights project. In order to get started with sewage treatment work that had to be done before financing was available, the city lent the sewer fund $500,000. We avoided interest on short term debt.”

Some fiscally wise decisions resulted in a greener solution or provided better service.

The lighting project, said Mr. Moore, reduced the number of light posts by half and the amount of electricity the city uses to light Warren Street, and at the same time replaced light poles it leased from New York Grid with poles the city now owns, that are taller than the old ones and more able to disperse light over a larger area.

A cooperative arrangement between the county and the city to provide bus transportation between Greenport and Hudson is expected to lower costs paid by the city, and to result in more comprehensive service.

Of the sometimes rough negotiating process, Mr. Moore said, “We are using the three-way discussion to the city’s advantage. Every item gets examined. In many parts of life there are no obvious answers, particularly when you are talking about money. We all have strengths and different experience. The reason to have more than one person doing it–it’s a fairly complex budget for a small city–is that we can’t always be of one mind and there’s nothing wrong with that, there needs to be negotiation.”

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