The New Rochelle Citizens' Panel on Sustainable Budgets has completed its work and made its recommendations Wednesday to the City Council to help stem a three-year $29 million budget deficit.
The panel's final report was titled Building a Balanced Path Forward for a Prosperous New Rochelle.
Chairman Todd Kern said that, when the panel started working, it quickly became clear how big the problem was.
"We all began the process thinking this would be an exercise of routing out inefficiencies in a bloated city government," he said, adding that the reality is that the city has done remarkably well considering its resources.
"Most of the easy solutions have already been taken," Kern said. "While we celebrate all that has been done, we have a big problem."
To that end, he said the panel recommended "a reasonable and sustainable balance of spending cuts, revenue increases and new investments" over a three-year period.
"Inaction could mean a 9 to 10 percent tax increase above the tax cap," Kern said.
Proposed cuts include a reduction in overnight fire department manning ($900,000), consolidation of low-incident police sectors ($810,000), alteration of leaf pick-up to encourage mulching and bagging ($600,000) and an end to public subsidies for several recreation programs that should be self-sustaining ($445,000), such as softball, basketball and tennis. The panel also recommended employee compensation be an average yearly increase of 1.5 percent, for a three-year savings of $9.85 million.
Those reductions are estimated to save $15.8 million over three years—2013-2015.
The panel proposed new investments in economic growth and infrastructure priorities that would total $2.9 million over three years. The thought was the investments were critical as a pathway to fiscal sustainability and tax relief even if they increased the budget in the short term.
Proposed new revenues—including increasing the utility gross receipts tax from 1 percent to 3 percent, adopting a local real estate transfer tax and creating a new fee to cover sewers and drains costs—totaling $2.9 million over three years.
Panel member Bo Kemp said each of those new revenues would require help at the state legislative level.
Kern said the overall point of the panel's recommendations was tradeoffs.
"This is a parade of ideas none of us wished we had to say yes to," he said.
The result that taxpayers would see if the panel's recommendations were taken was categorized in "best," "likely" and "worst" scenarios, Kern said, based on the number that were adopted, with the "worst" being no adopted recommendations.
"It could be between a negative 2 percent to about a 5 percent increase," he said.
The average homeowner could see a $57 decrease up to a $136 increase. For renters, it ranged from a $10 decrease to a $25 increase.
The Citizens' Budget Panel was created at the end of 2011 by the City Council. Members were appointed in January. The panel met between February and July. The final report was adopted 14 to 1.
Mayor Noam Bramson said, in reading the report, he felt more optimistic.
"Because it seemed to me that there were achievable means by which we could solve our challenges," he said. "It is clear to me that there is a path forward."
The entire report is attached to this article and is available on the city's Web site.