The Town of Aurora’s preliminary $2.64 million budget for next year reflects some subtle changes in an effort to avoid a large tax increase at a time when employee pension costs have tripled in the last three years and worker’s compensation costs have increased by 19 percent.
In the end, residents will face a 1.4 percent projected tax rate increase under the general fund, though spending is down $8,000. The townwide general fund, which applies to residents of the town and the Village of East Aurora, calls for a $2.87 tax rate per $1,000 of assessed valuation, an increase of 4 cents from the current rate.
Town leaders are looking to continue reducing the town’s use of fund balance and to maximize the use of its staff, with one example being a modified plan to address how dog control is handled, for a projected overall savings of $15,000.
Town leaders also are touting a plan that goes before voters in a referendum Nov. 6, calling for elimination of the part-time tax receiver position and the merger of those duties into the town clerk’s office to help streamline operations, a move that could lead to estimated yearly savings of $13,000 to $17,000.
“I’m all for holding the line on taxes, but I’m also a realist,” Supervisor Jolene M. Jeffe said. “You have to be prudent and reduce the reliance on fund balance.”
Initially, the town was facing what could have been a 6 percent to 8 percent tax increase, Councilwoman Susan Friess said, noting that it since has been whittled to 1.4 percent. “It looks like we’re just flat, but we have cut back,” she said.
No town programs or services have been cut, town officials said.
Highlights of the general fund include 2 percent pay raises for elected officials and nonunion employees, while unionized workers are receiving 2.5 percent pay increases per their contract. Town councilmen, however, are not raising their pay, which is about $10,250 per board member.
In the supervisor’s office, Jeffe eliminated her budget officer stipend of $5,000. The board increased her travel expense reimbursement to $2,500 and her assistant was returned to full-time, helping to manage human resources and personnel for a salary of about $30,000.
For the town budget covering the part of the town outside the village, the tax rate remains flat at $2.71 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Appropriations for that budget total $1.6 million. No fund balance is being used to offset that general fund.
When it comes to dog control, which is now managed by Councilman Jeff Harris’ wife, Sheryl, the town plans to have dog control calls funneled to the Highway Department, with the highway office dispatching the dog control officer as needed. When not on call, the dog control officer will be an employee for the Parks Department. Her salary would be split between the Parks Department and dog control, Jeffe said. Current part-time highway workers would be trained for backup dog control work.
The controversial proposal to reorganize tax collection operations, if approved, would not take effect until 2014, after Tax Receiver Barbara Halt’s term ends Dec. 31, 2013.
“We are not putting Barb Halt out on the street,” Friess said. “Barb will have a job and retirement and health benefits. She will not be displaced.”
Friess said Aurora is one of the last towns in Western New York to consolidate tax collecting within another office. “It is not new news. It will help build backup in the town clerk’s and tax receiver offices,” she said. “We can gain some efficiencies in both those offices and save at least $13,000.”
If the referendum passes, Jeffe said, the town clerk’s office would provide tax collecting services, while Halt would be considered a full-time staff member within the town clerk’s office. Halt’s new assignment would pay about $44,000 per year, including benefits.