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Town Asks Departments, Again, to Cut Expenses

As officials struggle to put together a budget that stays within a state-imposed property tax cap, service reductions are once again on the table.

With Bedford’s budget already in a high-six-figure hole, elected officials renewed their annual struggle Thursday night to make do with less.

Before the first dime has been allocated for services to the public next year, the budget-makers face more than $1.3 million in mandated outlays for such things as debt service, employee benefits and contributions to state pensions. The state's new tax cap permits an increase just over a half-million dollars, leaving more than $800,000 that must be cut from the operating end. The cuts necessarily must come from spending that was deemed necessary, even in an atmosphere of austerity, a scant 12 months ago.

In the second year of tax-cap budgeting—and the first in which spending is based on a severely diminished allocation from the previous year—the town board heard Thursday from leaders of the police, public works and building departments, major areas of town spending.

In recent years, the board has asked department heads to identify ways to reduce their budgets through cuts ranging from 5 to 15 percent. This year, however, as the board kicked off deliberations on 2013 spending, members suggested a specific dollar reduction—$354,230 in public works, for example—and asked the operating chiefs to identify ways to achieve it.

Bedford chose last year not to be bound by the new cap’s ceiling, invoking early-on  the law’s provision for a supermajority vote to override it. The vote provided just-in-case authorization to hike the overall property-tax levy to rise beyond the cap’s nominal 2 percent limit. “I think we have to have that in our pocket,” Supervisor Lee V.A. Roberts said at the time. Even as it voted then to defy the cap, however, the board also vowed every effort to honor its limits. In the end, it did. And two workers lost their jobs.

This year, no one has suggested a cap override. Indeed, as the town board formally met for the first time on a 2013 budget a week ago, it was quickly clear that no cow would be too sacred this season to escape cost-cutting consideration. In a free-wheeling, hour-long work session, spending decisions with potentially life-and-death consequences—including emergency ambulance service and police staffing levels—were discussed side by side with such old standbys as unfunded state mandates and employee health-insurance contributions.

Nothing specific was proposed let alone decided, as Councilman David Gabrielson went out of his way to point out to the sparse audience. “We don’t want to cut anything,” he said, “we don’t want to have to do that.”

Still, for cities, towns, school boards and others across the state, the tax cap’s strict limits on property-tax increases create austerity-like pressures on local-government spending. As a result, in municipalities across the state—from wealthiest to the most chronically disadvantaged—budget-making most often begins by searching for what—or whom—to cut.

“It’s just painful choices,” Roberts acknowledged.

Deputy Supervisor Peter Chryssos noted that even small-change fiscal concerns were “chipping away at the fabric of what this community is.”

 “There was a little Halloween parade that used to go down the street,” he recalled. Now, under their collective bargaining agreement, Chryssos said, police officers “have to be paid X dollars to work on it.”

“You mean you can’t sit down with the union, or whoever, and say,  ‘Look, is this how you want your community to be?’”

“It’s sad to see these things slowly but surely go away,”  Chryssos said.

Not surprisingly, much of the talk last week focused on the town’s spending, large and small, on the police. At $5 million, they account for some 20 percent of Bedford’s budget, an inviting but well-defended target for spending slashers.

But under the tax cap’s unyielding pressure, once-unthinkable words like “consolidation” and “county takeover” were in the air last week. Councilman Chris Burdick, the board’s liaison to the department, said he warned Police Chief William Hayes “several months ago” that he might have to address those concepts. Now, Burdick told the board, “I think we’re at that point and . . . I will go to Bill and say, ‘Look, we need to take a hard look at it.’”

Burdick’s fellow councilman, Gabrielson, questioned the force’s staffing levels. “I keep saying, [take] a vigorous look at the size of our police department,” Gabrielson insisted. “We have no crime in this town.”

This week, after Public Works Commissioner Kevin Winn and Building Inspector Steven Fraietta had suggested economies in an open, public work session, the board abruptly voted to hear from the police chief behind closed doors.

Ross Revira September 28, 2012 at 09:33 PM
All this hand wringing over a situation purely self created. Nobody will address the problem of living beyond one's means. I guess the town government was never taught that when they were children though they act like children by ignoring the elephant in the room.
E Johnson September 29, 2012 at 12:24 PM
The "elephant in the room" is someone's job, leaving a financially battered family. Why not everyone take home a little less and spread the burden of fiscal responsibility.
pauline schneider September 29, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Laying people off in these times is NOT a sustainable solution. Things are only going to get harder and more expensive. There will be more storms, more inflation, more expensive fuel, etc, etc. Time to talk to us Transition Town folk. We have some answers to all this, if you'd like to listen. ;) http://www.transitionus.org/
pauline schneider September 29, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Who else is going to Stony Point tomorrow, Sunday Sept 30, for the Mission Electric event? You can register at this link and come learn about sustainable, money saving green energy. Bedford 2020 is all about that. http://www.stonypointcenter.org/get-involved/latest-news/76-missionelectric And Leave Leaves Alone is all about saving energy by mulching leaves into the lawn rather than wasting gas and time blowing them, bagging them, and paying people to cart them away. Really dumb waste of our natural resources there. Why is Bedford still bagging and carting leaves that could be fertilizing our yards and gardens? Hm? You want to save an easy hundred grand, start there.
pauline schneider September 29, 2012 at 05:13 PM
exactly.
Ross Revira September 29, 2012 at 05:40 PM
The public employee unions in Bedford have always had the opportunity to take less for the benefit of the whole. The purpose of a municipality or school district is not to provide employment for employment's sake. Government's job is to provide for the best services at the least possible cost. For too many years politicians have used the public payroll as their own personal rewards system. I guess the chickens have come home to roost.
mark September 29, 2012 at 09:43 PM
and in light of all this the town wants to buy more open land which only benefits the estates who's properties are adjacent to it. The land in question is already open, the owners wont sell it because it will devalue their own homes, call their bluff and vote a resounding "no' at the ballot for open space purchases. this what 20-20 is really about, cut back, cut corners and take the extra money to buy some millionaires back yard so he can have the benefit but not pay for it. Bedford needs to also address the faux farms paying Agricultural rates when they are clearly not real farms.
mark September 29, 2012 at 09:50 PM
BTW, as for Mr. G's comment that we have no crime in this town, it should only be true. I would much rather spend tax money on police than open land
mark September 30, 2012 at 02:08 AM
why should the town pick up leaves? 1st of all my tax money pays for it and I want it to continue. If you want to mulch your leaves be our guest but stop trying to force your way of life onto others. stop making up 'facts' like the town will save $100K, Lee Roberts herself said at a town meeting it would only save $30k, and that's probably on the high end. You live in the highest tick borne disease part of the country so enjoy your next round of sickness while creating habitats for ticks. There is zero evidence that this practice is safe. For anyone interested in keeping as safe from ticks as possible check the following link from the Centers for Disease Control http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/prev/in_the_yard.html
pauline schneider September 30, 2012 at 05:52 AM
Calling Mulching leaves "a way of life" is an odd way of putting it. t's a practical solution that has been adopted in several municipalities across the country for numerous reasons. I dont understand Mark's apparent antagonism to a smart and simple solution to 1) save money 2) reduce pollution 3) improve soil 4) lower taxes. Mulching leaves has no effect on deer tick population. Im not sure where that connection came from. They are unrelated issues. As we all know, pollution is a serious problem in our area. Pollution is a leading cause of asthma and deaths in children and elderly. As a community we are all responsible to put forward best practices that help all our fellow citizens. Encouraging mulching, or even banning leaf blowers as some municipalities have done, has markedly improved air quality. Not to mention sound quality. ;)
mark September 30, 2012 at 11:45 AM
you have zero proof that mulching has no effect on ticks, if i am wrong then post it. there is no research on it. i dont think any place has totally banned blowers either, there are seasonal restrictions. get your facts straight.
pauline schneider October 02, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Mr Solomon, I'm not sure why you seem antagonistic against such a beneficial proposition. I've been a gardener for decades and a landscape designer for over a decade (and a Lyme disease sufferer for years, by the way). Banning leaf blowing can only be a boon to us all for multiple reasons many have explained. I would love to speak with you and better understand your opposition to such a seemingly innocuous suggestion. They are just leaves after all, not nuclear waste. No need for us to get all bent out of shape over it. And please don't put words into my "mouth" or anyone elses'. If we want to collaborate on what is best for our community as a whole, we can do that better by actually listening to each other and hearing each others' concerns. Demanding that I "prove" you wrong is neither a helpful nor a very friendly way of working together in a community. I am not interested in "proving people wrong". I AM interested in working with people and understanding their concerns, collaborating, cooperating and sharing ideas. Would you be willing to talk in person so I can better understand your concerns? Lisa Buchman has my personal contact info. And never challenge me to present facts! I'm a teacher as well as a gardener! I thrive on citations! Evidence! Science! Facts! :) Here's a great article from 2008 on leaf blowers and the banning thereof in the town of Santa Barbara since 1997. Enjoy! http://www.independent.com/news/2008/oct/23/leaf-blowers-legacy/
pauline schneider October 02, 2012 at 10:30 PM
This could be our town's ideal goal. :) http://www.arb.ca.gov/homepage.htm
pauline schneider October 02, 2012 at 10:37 PM
The California EPA Air Resources Board's final Report on the potential hazards of Leaf blowers. http://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/leafblow/leafblow.htm We can do much better than blow away our money and our health.
mark October 03, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Pauline, Lets see the 'Evidence! Science! Facts!' that you claim to thrive on. As for wanting to 'collaborate' I know better. I have the email thread where LLA is discusses with a County Legislator, and I quote '...driving up landscaping costs by requiring bagging, in the hope that it will force people who would not otherwise mulch in place to mulch in place...' They backed off only because they lost support from County Officials.
mark October 03, 2012 at 02:41 AM
this report was criticized by the scientist who did it. they were not allowed to do the experiment the way they wanted. blowers are federally regulated anyway and furthermore this has nothing to do with my contention (which I have given scientific research on) that this will increase tick habitats and populations. this is an attempt to misguide the public with something that has nothing to do with the topic of mulching and ticks. i am amazed at how you are so inexorably taken in with mulching no matter what is presented to you.
Zachary Patierno October 04, 2012 at 06:08 AM
If you are not happy with what you as a voter approved, you should have gathered your troops to fight against what the Bedford HIlls Fire Department has done. These things were done to make the fire house and the community more safe. With the capabilities to make this building a place of shelter in a time of disaster, get up with national fire codes, NFPA, OSHA requirements and making our building accessible for members of the community with disabilities. Not only has this fire house already helped our community and the members who serve it it will continue in the years to come. I don't know about you Peter but I want the highest trained most in shape fire fighter to respond to my house or a family or friends house in a time of need. It may be silly for a person who volunteers many hours of their lives to serving the public, not only members of the community but people who travel through our town to have a fitness room in the fire house but it is something that will not only help are community stay safer but more active. Be apart of a change you want to see thats what the members of the Bedford Hills Fire Department are doing day in and day out. I am disgusted at your attack of the fire department and the attack the town council men had on our police department because I know first hand how much crime truly does occur in our town and how much time the members of these departments put in to make our town a better place. That also goes for public works too.
pauline schneider October 04, 2012 at 05:08 PM
Mr Solomon, usually when a person reaches a hand out to another to shake, it is taken. Your refusal to accept my hand is interesting. And telling. I see ZERO effort or interest on your part for any kind of collaboration or discussion. Regardless of anything anyone else has said or done before me, I am someone you have never met or spoken with before. You have slapped my hand away before having the chance to know me. It has also now come to my attention that blowing, bagging and transporting leaves is also a lucrative business for you and your cohorts. Good luck with that.
pauline schneider October 04, 2012 at 05:17 PM
I agree with Zachary Patierno. Everyone needs to do a week of the work they criticize, before earning the right to criticize. Volunteer as a citizen hero and wear the boots/shoes to know what you speak of. They risk their lives and their time with their families every day. Almost every day I see my neighbor's young son race by in his car to respond to the fire horn. My heart and prayers go with him each time. It would be beneath my dignity to begrudge him or his fellow volunteers their dignity and comfort while they spend hours upon hours in the fire house ready to protect my family... Think about that.
peter October 04, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Pauline, Santa Barbara is not Bedford. Bedford happens to be one of the most wooded suburbs in the country. Santa Barbara is a city which only receives about 15 inches of rain a year. It's practically a desert. Chaparrel (which is a shrub) being the most common native plant. Bedford covers 39 square miles of which a vast majority is covered with trees. The population density in Bedford is 440 per sq. mile where in Santa Barbara it is 5 times that. I think your Santa Barbara comparison is hardly relevant.
pauline schneider October 04, 2012 at 07:55 PM
Ah, Peter, so you then you read that leaf blowing started in the '70's out West due to drought? FYI, no drought here. And they quickly worked to limit the blowing for all the obvious reasons. Trying to compare two locations based on population and size misses the point. It's about pollution, both sound and particulate, in our sub- and urban areas, not in our forested areas. I sure HOPE you're not blowing leaves in the forest! what a waste of time, money and precious fuel already beyond its peak.
John G. Flynn October 05, 2012 at 12:32 AM
Why NOT CUT 20% across the board.....Board members should place the children,FIRST of our TOWN.......we all have to tighten our belts in these times . vote your pocketbook & wallet.
John G. Flynn October 05, 2012 at 12:43 AM
ALSO we have all sacrificed in Bedford our homes are worth 20-40% LESS from just a few years ago.....Politicians should cut their salaries, Town & County wide we all need to shoulder the Load......Nov 6 is just a few days away
Michael October 05, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Pauline let me have your address I have a ton of leaves you can mulch. I'm sure it's a 6,000 sq ft Mc mansion. Love to tell everyone how to live. Mark didn't slap your hand he slapped you with the facts. Go hug a leaf pile!
mark October 05, 2012 at 02:31 AM
@Pauline, I have been caring for trees for 35 years, i have never had anything at all to do with leaf removal. I dont not make any money off lawns and leaf removal. My 'cohorts' and I are educated and licensed. I have to re certify ever 3 years with 40 CEU's. I think it is fair to say I am on top of things. You haven't got the basic knowledge to understand that my raising the issue of ticks and leaf mulch is valid and based on ALL published research done up to this point which all advises removal of leaves and leaf litter. LLA case rests on their assertion that leaf mulch is not leaf litter. I don't buy it. They did not produce one scientific document in their favor at the Town of Bedford meeting this past summer. I have produced over 20 docs from such people as Cornell, Rutgers, URI & The Centers for Disease Control. The research all states that the cleaner the lawn areas are the less likely you are to encounter ticks. The CDC's estimates that over 70% of a persons 1st encounter happen on their properties. There is no research on what happens with tick populations when leave aren't picked up. There was never any need because towns hadn't threatened to stop leaf pick up before. Many doctors say Lyme is at epidemic proportions here, People from your side have disagreed with that as well. If you know something about ticks & leaves and all variations that the universities and doctors don't please share it, along with the published research.
pauline schneider October 05, 2012 at 06:07 AM
Michael, you're hysterical. lol. Remember when we were kids and jumped into great big mountains of leaves? Yeah. I love 'em! And no, I wouldn't be caught dead owning or living in a macmansion. I'm about low carbon footprint. Remember? Enjoy the fall! Life calls.
Alex October 09, 2012 at 05:32 AM
BOOM!
Peter Sattler October 26, 2012 at 09:48 PM
@Zachary and @Pauline - After reading and considering your comments, I have deleted my post and issued an explanation/apology on the original article.

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