Baxter Estates shrinks budget for 2nd straight year

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Baxter Estates Village Hall (photo from baxterestates.org)

By Kristy O’Connell

Village of Baxter Estates trustees adopted a 2017-18 budget on Thursday that is $37,162 smaller than the current fiscal year’s budget.

Most of the revenue in the $815,891 budget, or $593,546, is expected to come from property taxes, a $25,937 increase that stays within the state cap on property tax increases, village Clerk-Treasurer Chrissy Kiernan said in an email.

That means 18 percent of village residents’ tax bills will be lower, she said.

“We were fortunate that no services were cut this year,” Kiernan said, despite continued growth in certain expenses, such as bond payments for the Village Hall property and legal payments associated with the Baxter House, a historic home that has become the subject of local debate.

Baxter Estates also shrank its budget last year by more than $54,000.

New items in the budget include additional signs to be added throughout the village, the adoption of a third-party service for newsletters and community emails, addition of a part-time assistant to the building inspector as well as anticipated litigation expenses related to the Baxter House.

Because of the expenses involving the historic Baxter House, one or two projects from the current fiscal year were deferred, village Trustee Chris Ficalora said.

Ficalora said the village is budgeting for legal expenses in the amount of $107,720, which would cover service fees, codification and other litigation fees — especially since the lawyer for the home’s owner and others have discussed potential lawsuits.

In the event that litigation is not pursued, the funds set aside for legal fees will be “pure savings,” Ficalora said.

The Baxter House controversy has plagued the village for many years, escalating in February when a fire ripped through the home and heavily damaged it. For months leading up to the fire, residents and village officials condemned the home’s owner, Sabrina Wu, for not preserving the home, which dates back to the 17th century.

Other anticipated expenses include community projects, such as road reconstruction, improvements to street lighting and beautification.

Ficalora and Kiernan built the budget based on needs and cost, Ficalora said. They reviewed each expenditure from the 2016-17 fiscal year and determined whether the expense would be repeated.

Ficalora said village Mayor Nora Haagenson had encouraged him and Kiernan to create a budget that funds all of the necessary projects and reduces wasteful funding while maintaining taxes below the state’s tax cap.

The budget has received a fiscal stress score of 8.9 percent in state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System, which was developed to spot early warning signs of financial problems for municipalities.

While a score of 0 percent is considered optimal, many small villages comparable to Baxter Estates received a score in the mid-30s, Ficalora said.

Ficalora said the score is based on cash flow and how the village manages deficits and surpluses, fixed costs, and the use of short-term debt.

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