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Wilson budget will hinge on three scenarios

WILSON – The Wilson Village Board will vote Wednesday to establish a final village budget for 2014-15 – the last day permitted for the vote under state law.

The board will meet at 7 p.m. in Village Hall regarding its tentative $1,123,913 budget and will consider three scenarios, according to Mayor Bernard “Bernie” Leiker, who will cast one of three votes:

• The board could adopt the tentative budget as it stands, with a 26-cent decrease in taxes from the current $7.69 rate to $7.43 per $1,000 of assessed valuation – but it appears that would cost a 37-year village employee his job, as recommended by the mayor. This has been a matter of great contention at recent meetings.

• It could vote with the mayor on his proposal to adopt a four-cent increase from $7.69 to $7.73 per $1,000 of assessed value. This would still eliminate the job of full-time deputy superintendent of public works but also add four items Leiker said must be included to ensure the village’s future fiscal health.

• Or the mayor said the board could adopt a 97-cent hike to $8.66 per $1,000 of assessed value, driven by the retention of the public works position and the addition of his four proposed items – a 12.6 percent tax increase.

Leiker said the deputy public works superintendent had previously hinted at retirement but has refused an offer of “an early-retirement package with benefits.” According to village documents, the employee earns a base salary of $51,188, with an additional $1,000 longevity reward and overtime pay and benefits. Leiker declined to elaborate, but full-time village employees receive lifetime medical and dental insurance.

Elected village officials also were offered lifetime benefits until that perk was eliminated by the board under former Mayor Patrick Kelahan in 2010.

The village has six full-time employees. Some have filed a petition to join the Teamsters – representation village officials earlier refused to recognize. The matter is now before the state Public Employment Relations Board.

“My recommendation is that we eliminate this position and continue to offer him the retirement package,” Leiker said.

Leiker said his proposed four-cent tax increase would include his recommendation that the village begin paying back $10,000 in principal on a $110,000 water project bond, in addition to the roughly $3,000 already earmarked for payment of interest in the 2014-15 budget. The village borrowed the money to replace antiquated water pipes in the Autumview area that were producing rusty water.

The other parts of the mayor’s proposed four-cent increase include his recommendations that the board: add $1,000 to the tentative budget to upgrade computer software in the clerk’s office; add $500 for election expenses; and boost the sidewalk repair fund from $2,500 to $5,000.

“I have added a few things because the 2014-15 budget will set the cap for years to come, and it was recommended for me to do this by the state,” Leiker said.

The tentative budget already includes $20,000 for a capital improvement fund to begin saving money toward the village’s anticipated contribution of $187,000 to refurbish the water tower. The town also will be contributing around $700,000 to the project, Leiker said.

And the tentative budget includes $83,000, which is the anticipated annual payment on a 30-year, $1.6 million bond to upgrade the sewer treatment plant. That project is largely completed.

“This project was pushed on us by the state Department of Environmental Conservation,” Leiker said. “We were under a consent order, which means that if we didn’t comply, we would be fined $10,000 a day by the DEC.”

Leiker maintains that his proposed additions are necessary and that his two trustees, Gerard Kadryna and Gary Darnell, agreed on the additions in a public budget workshop. He said they did not, however, agree with him on cutting the full-time position.

Newcomer Darnell joined the board April 1 following his election last month.

“I’m not in favor of any significant tax hikes, but I’m not going to balance the budget on the backs of our employees, either,” Darnell said. “If the employee decides to retire in the next year or two, and I have spoken to him and have every reason to believe this is true, then we should cut the position through attrition then, not now. We need to tighten our belts and look at other ways to save money. We have had significant turnouts at our meetings recently, and the majority of people have been in favor of accepting some tax increase in order to keep employees.”

But Leiker said, “This employee is not to blame for all of the things the village must pay for, but the money has to come from somewhere. It has to come from employee salaries and benefits because we’ve cut everything else … I don’t know how we’ll balance the budget next year if we keep this position. Taxes will continue to rise.”

Since the tentative budget was presented in a public hearing Monday, the board would be required to make any changes through resolution Wednesday, Leiker said.

Kadryna said he had no comment at this time.