The Healthcare Challenge
At its March 2nd meeting, the City Council will hear from the City Manager and a subcommittee of our Citizens Finance Committee on the healthcare cost challenges facing the City. One-quarter or $7.5M of the $30M annual operating budget of the City goes toward employee benefits and payroll taxes. This line item grew 14% in one year from $6.5M driven partly by the new Federal healthcare legislation. While employee pensions are part of this rise, pensions are mandated under the New York State Constitution and reform is currently being discussed in Albany. Healthcare is managed by local governments, and healthcare coverage for employee retirees is an unfunded liability that is paid for out of each year’s operating budget. The main issue is how to best deal with this liability. The Council has asked the City Manager to review the future healthcare liability and begin to identify potential solutions.
The Playland Resolution
In anticipation of Westchester County issuing a request for proposal (RFP) on the future of Playland, last summer the Council appointed a Playland Strategic Working Group. Without a defined vision for Playland in the RFP, the committee identified key principles and values that reflected the culmination of research, outreach and public sessions from Rye citizens and surrounding communities. A summary of the core values to be considered with any proposed use is as follows: Playland is first and foremost a public resource for the use and enjoyment of all residents of Rye and Westchester County to include access to open space, Long Island Sound and facilities; any use must be sensitive to environmental considerations and sustainability; Playland’s unique historical importance and its highest national historic designation are at the heart of Playland and should be maintained; any proposal should have demonstrated financial viability over the long term; and finally, Rye has a long established designated zoning policy which reflects a careful balancing of many considerations that are reflected in the Master Plan, the Zoning Code, the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan and other chapters within the Rye City Code concerning environmental and other health and safety issues. In addition, the Council has asked to include its support of the Children’s Museum as part of Playland because such an institution reflects the stated values. The Council will finalize and vote on the resolution at the March 2nd meeting.
Funding for the Library through a Chapter 414 Vote
Some communities financially support their libraries by setting up a separate tax district by which the annual budget is voted on by the public each year – known as a Chapter 414 vote. The council and the library are discussing the merits of supporting the creation of a new tax district for the Rye Free Reading room. One of the advantages is that the public would be able to vote annually on the library budget; however, one of the disadvantages is that overall taxes may rise over time if separate tax districts are set up as City spending may rise without proper controls in place. If the decision is to forgo a 414 process, the council is exploring a longer-term agreement with the library (currently done annually) that would identify areas of partnership to include labor relations coordination. This approach would give the library certainty of City funding while allowing the City to have some influence on decisions made. Right now the City funds roughly $1.1M or 75% of the operations of the Rye Free Reading Room.
Hen Island Case Dismissed
The City was pleased with the recent court decision by the Honorable Barbara Zambelli to grant the City’s motion to dismiss the matter of Healtheharbor.com vs. the City of Rye. In order to provide the best environmental and health services to residents, it has long been the standing practice of the City of Rye, like many other surrounding communities, that Westchester County provides the best level of quality services and oversight on these matters. Rye will use its authority and discretion to respond to any issues it believes it should address and will refer to Westchester County matters on which the County has expertise. Since the cottages on the Island are seasonal, if issues arise in the coming season, the City will continue to engage the appropriate departments to work cooperatively with all parties involved to review the concerns. In addition, per the Judge’s the Decision, the City is in the process of reviewing the City Code and will be addressing possible amendments to same.