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Town of Lancaster residents raise concerns about the increased costs of employee benefits

BY: Jennifer Lysiak, Lancaster Editor | November 08, 2012

LANCASTER- While the 2013 Town of Lancaster Preliminary Budget calls for about a one percent reduction in the tax rate from the current budget, Monday night’s board meeting had a handful of residents focused on the amount of money town employees contribute to their benefits and the associated increased costs.

The tentative budget put forth by Supervisor Dino Fudoli a few weeks ago did not change, and Monday night’s public hearing gave residents the opportunity to voice negative and positive views on the budget, which is expected to adopted at the Nov. 19 meeting.

The $30.7 million spending plan, an increase of 1.53 percent, will increase mainly due to employee pension’s contributions and debt service. However, the amount to be raised by taxation decreases by approximately $200,000 or one percent, a first in 13 years.

The town will use $1.1 million from the fund balance and $350,000 in debt reserve funds. The amount to be raised by taxation is approximately $20.6 million with estimated revenues at $8.7 million.

For a Town of Lancaster home assessed at $100,000 residents will see a tax reduction of $17.49 and for a home assessed at $200,000 it will reduce roughly by $33.

Fudoli’s budget will cut two funded, vacant positions and eliminate funding for the New York City trip that town board members and department heads attend on an annual basis.

During the public hearing, Lancaster resident Thomas Kazmierczak agreed with an earlier comment made by Lancaster Council Member Ronald Ruffino in regard to health insurance being very expensive, but Kazmierczak was taken back a bit when he heard town employees do not pay a dime toward their health insurance and he questioned if that was true.

Fudoli verified he heard correctly.

Town employees should start paying their “fair share,” Kazmierczak exclaimed.

“You’re bleeding the taxpayers,” remarked Kazmierczak.

Lancaster resident Lee Chowaniec commented on union contract negotiations and final agreements that could impact the budget such as wages, health care, and pension costs.

“This budget proposal calls for no wage increase, because union contracts have not been negotiated,” remarked Chowaniec. “They expired the last day of 2011. At present the total town employee and police wages are recorded as $10.59 million. Am I correct in saying that for every one percent increase in salary across all funds, the cost to the town would be approximately $100,000?”

Town of Lancaster Director of Finance Dave Brown answered yes. 

Because town employees do not contribute to their health insurance, the total cost for health, dental, and vision for the town is $2.75 million, said Brown, which include retiree’s coverage as well.

Chowaniec also asked what the increase in the retirement cost from last year’s budget and the total amount the town contributes into the retirement system.

Brown remarked the budget includes $2.638 million for all members. It was $2.276 million last year, so there is an increase of $376,000 in pension costs for town employees.

“The town has no control over the mandated pension costs,” said Chowaniec. “But I would have to ask, should settlement occur with the four union contracts and there is an increase in wages, health care or any other contract agreement that deters from a revenue neutral outcome, how will that cost be absorbed? “

Fudoli commented there won’t be any contract agreements that will cost the town money and any raises could be offset by givebacks during the negotiations.

President of the White Collar Union Marcia Cox asked if the budget with no pay increases, which is the second one in a row, was reasonable.

“If you look at the private sector they haven’t received a pay increase since 2007,” said Fudoli. “We’re not done negotiation yet. There are ways to get raises to employees that can be budget neutral. That can be beneficial to the town workers. To say is it unreasonable, I don’t think it is reasonable that the taxpayers of Lancaster haven’t gotten raises in the private sector for five, going on six years.”

Lancaster resident Mike Fronczak brought up the point that with the cost of health insurance increasing and so on, technically there have been raises.

“So, there is already a raise in the budget; it’s just not in their pocket,” said Fronczak.

Also, President of the Hull Family Home and Farmstead Foundation, Gary Costello, spoke in regards to the budget not including the $3,000 the town contributes to the Hull Home.

“For nine years, the Hull Home and town has been partners,” said Costello. “In September, the Hull Home forwarded a request for $3,000 and now we understand there is thought of disallowing that funding for the coming year.”

Costello explained to the board the value of having the historic house in the area, the educational programs that are held throughout the year, and in the past nine years they have invested three quarters of a million dollars in the acquisition of land; expanding the site from less than one acre to now 25 acres to increase their capacity and potential to provide meaningful vocational programming for the residents in the region.

“Critical to the completion of our long range teaching plan this commit also comes with financial obligations, obligations that have us working to satisfy loans that total more than $190,000,” explained Costello. “This makes support for our daily operations, support from a variety of sources, which the Town of Lancaster has been one, very important. Our request for $3,000 amounts to approximately .015 percent of the town’s total budget. I think that is about nine pennies per resident for the town.”

The next Town of Lancaster Board Meeting will be held at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 19, in the town hall, 21 Central Ave., Lancaster.

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