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Rye budget hearing draws no opponents

With no layoffs or service cuts and a minuscule property tax increase -- in a city where the average house is valued at more than $1.4 million -- there's little to complain about in the City of Rye's proposed 2013 budget, it would seem.

Only a handful of Rye residents showed up for a public hearing Wednesday night to discuss the city's spending package for next year, which features a 3.3 percent property tax increase and the elimination of three vacant positions.

And there was no criticism of the budget.

City Manager Scott Pickup's proposed $45 million budget is about $1.5 million more than 2012's spending package -- mostly because of increased health care and pension costs and labor obligations -- but keeps spending flat from the previous year.

Pickup has proposed raising property taxes by 3 percent in 2013, which would increase the levy to $149.38 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Under that rate, the average homeowner would pay about $97 more a year, according to city figures.

Rye's proposed increase falls under the state's 2 percent tax cap, which means the council won't have to override it.

The city will end 2012 with a surplus of $1.4 million, in large part because of a boost in sales and mortgage tax collections and building permits. The city also got $300,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for damages from 2011's tropical storms.

But those gains are expected to be offset by rising health care and pension costs and workers' compensation, as well as contractual pay raises, which will cost the city a projected $1.3 million in 2013, Fazzino has told council members.

At Wednesday's public hearing, a citizens budget committee told council members that the city might face a $2.3 million shortfall by 2016, which could nearly deplete the city's $10.6 million reserve fund if those funds are used to try to balance the budget.

The 2013 budget also would eliminate three vacant positions each in the police, fire and public works departments. The city also plans to tap $485,000 in reserve funds to buy new computers and pay off workers' compensation claims.

Despite the flat budget, city officials will be spending $195,000 on capital improvement projects on street resurfacing and sewer projects, according to budget documents. City officials also plan to borrow about $1.78 million for street and library upgrades, a move that was approved by voters in a Nov. 6 referendum.

The council is expected to vote on the budget at its Dec. 19 meeting.

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