Well-Funded Reserves Are Necessary In Town Of Busti
As the town of Busti supervisor for the past eight years I would like to respond to the editorial submitted by Councilman Rudy Mueller on July 28 entitled “Busti Town Board Needs To Approve Fund Balance Policy”
At the time of his article we had already planned on discussing and possibly voting on a fund balance policy at our Aug. 5 meeting. At the Aug. 5 meeting we did in fact propose, discuss and approve a fund balance policy that has recommended fund balance levels that are to be used to guide us in the budget process. The recommended levels are not mandatory and there is language in the resolution stating that they are intended to be gradual changes in either direction. In fact, two of our four funds are already at or near the recommended levels and the other two will need to be reviewed once we are further along in this budget year.
To summarize, we had talked about making the resolution after last year’s budget process, we had planned on making a proposal at our last meeting and we accomplished that task. There were even citizens in the audience at the last meeting that spoke in favor of the fund balance levels and the need to have a secure financial base. Councilman Mueller believes we should spend down the fund balance to artificially and temporarily lower the taxes, which myself and the other three councilmen strongly disagree with. I have been the supervisor for the past eight years and lived in Busti my entire life. In those 50-plus years I have seen a lot of changes and many occasions when there were local events that the town had to deal with. The town budget is influenced greatly by the county and state and the line items that are expenses paid to them or income from them. Items like workmen’s compensation, retirement programs and highway funding. We are also at the mercy of inflation and current events that effect the costs of everything we purchase like fuel, equipment, road surfaces and salt. There are also standard costs like wages and supplies that go up at a somewhat predictable rate.
There are no magical formulas in how the budget works and it doesn’t have any fluff in it like larger government agencies may be able to include. It is simply a spreadsheet and we try our best to limit the increases and look for ways to offset those increase with other means. For example, we recently applied for and were awarded a $100,000 grant from NYSERDA to install solar arrays at the town offices and highway garage and also upgrade all of our streetlights to LED. The goal was to eliminate the electric bills for the buildings and cut our streetlight bills by over 50% for decades to come. For many of the opportunities we have had over the last few years we were required to pay for the items up front or invest a small portion of the project costs to gain a much larger grant. Our fund balance allows us to do those things all the while paying the monthly bills. As many of you understand from your own personal or business finances the goal is always to stay in the black and to have a reserve to cover unexpected costs or new opportunities. As a municipality we are mandated to stay in the black and our financial strength allows us to do just that. I feel we have done a very good job and the New York state comptroller agrees. The town has a fiscal strength rating from the comptroller of 3.3 out of 100 with 1 being perfect and 100 being the worst. We have diligently worked to stay out of debt and our score has improved from 19.2 just three years ago.
With regard to the tax rate increases highlighted in his article, Councilman Mueller did not portray accurate numbers. The first year I was supervisor the tax increase was larger than I wanted, but it was needed to help redirect our fund balances in the right direction after they had been depleted to dangerously low levels. From 2013 on we have averaged approximately 2% per year. Considering a lot of the line items in our budget go up more than 2% per year and are not within our control like healthcare or paving materials, for example, we have done a good job on controlling costs without sacrificing services. In fact, we have added items like building a concession stand at the Loomis Bay soccer fields, helped fund the new baseball field at the Lakewood Fireman’s grounds and funded various lake improvements through multiple agencies. Our efforts and approach to the budget process along with having appropriate fund balances have allowed the town to be a leader in Chautauqua County.
In closing I would like to say that I am always available to meet and talk about what the town is doing, and our budget is available to anyone who would like to see it. You are invited and welcome to attend any of our town board meetings and to ask questions and express your opinions. My goal is to continue a deliberate and conservative approach to our budget process and to not only maintain our Town but to improve it by investing in our infrastructure and the lake. I would like to thank the other three board members, Ken Lawton, Jim Andrews and Todd Hanson, who have helped the town make many recent improvements and have supported me and my vision for the budget process.
Jesse Robbins is Busti town supervisor.