"Because our reserves are building up to a pretty good size I am suggesting we drop the tax rate to 90 cents," said District Treasurer George Gesslein. "That is sustainable, at least for the near future. We have been habitually putting two or three hundred thousand dollars into reserves. So let's knock it off the tax base."
Last year the tax rate was $0.945675. That was a bit higher than $0.939491 in 2013, but well below the 2012 tax rate of $0.971802. In 2011 it was 0.980003 and in 2010 the tax rate was 0.982391. Yet despite the downward slope in fire department taxes, the district has about $2.1 million in two reserve funds.
"If we reduce the rate to 90 cents and nothing else changes, gradually the reserve levels will be dropping," Gesslein said. "But because we're doing so well on spending and cutting expenses, almost every year we have one or two hundred thousand dollars or more of surplus that we dump into reserves. So I'm not worried about it."
Last year the New York State Comptroller's office accused the department of over taxing, saying it had too much money in reserves. At the time the department was in various stages of wrapping up two major capital improvement projects that included a new $750,000, 63,000 square foot fire station in the Village of Lansing, plus a $1.34 million addition to Central Station, and a $600,000 fire truck.
The fire commissioners disagreed with the Comptroller's findings, saying that saving for future projects is responsible. No additional taxes were needed for any of those projects. The Comptroller claimed the District set unreasonable budget amounts between 2008 and 2012 that averaged $777,000 lower expenditures than appropriations from property taxes.
"The number is correct, but it had to do with delays in construction," Gesslein said a year ago. "We had $3 million in the bank but most of that was in reserves for these two building projects. They just got delayed for two or three years. By the end of this year all that money is gone, because all the construction will be paid for and the new truck will be paid for. All the money's gone."
Deputy Chief Brad George worried that projects including a training tower, a new engine, and planned renovations to Station 4 next year could go as high as $1.2 million.
"I've got a million-one in there right now," Gesslein said. The capital reserve fund is only one of the District's funds. In total Gesslein said the District has over $2 million in reserves.
"Two years later if we decide to do something by rescue will reserves be built back up by then?" George asked,
"Yes," Gesslein said. "The numbers still come out. It looks like this year we're going to put another $300,000 in reserves."
"We don't have to worry about it because we'll have the money in there," said Fire Commission Chair Robert Wagner. "When it starts going down we'll put more in reserves."
Gesslein asked the commissioners for feedback so he can finalize the budget for their approval in September.