Cost-Saving Ideas: Capital and Repair Reserve Funds for Town or County Water and Sewer Districts
When preparing your annual operating budget for a water or sewer district, set aside moneys in
a capital or repair reserve fund to be used for costs for future capital projects or certain repairs.
Planning today and saving incrementally can help reduce the financial impact of such expenses on your
Establishing and funding allowable reserve funds for a specific intended purpose can smooth out spikes
in both the annual budget and the real property tax levy. Saving for future capital needs can also
reduce or eliminate interest and debt issuance costs.
Develop a Written Policy
Boards should develop a written policy that explains why money is being set aside in a reserve.
It should also document the reserve’s financial objectives, estimated funding levels and the conditions
under which funds will be used. Establish a reserve fund with a clear intent or plan about its future
purpose. The fund should not merely be a "parking lot" for an excess fund balance.
Establish a Capital Reserve Funds
A capital reserve fund finances construction, reconstruction or acquisitions of capital improvements,
or equipment acquisitions. There are two forms of capital reserve funds.
- Specific capital improvement, such as a sewage disposal plant,
or for specific item of equipment, such as a sewer system pump. For this type of fund, the authorization
must state the estimated maximum cost of the specific item.
- Type of improvement, such as land or buildings, or a type of equipment, such as sewer or water system maintenance equipment or machinery. Equipment, including vehicles, machinery, and apparatus, must have a defined "period of probable usefulness" (see Local
Finance Law Section 11.00). This type of capital reserve doesn’t require a stated estimated maximum cost.
A governing board resolution is required to a capital reserve fund. Funding sources for the reserve
may include district budgetary appropriations, transfers from unexpended district balances or surplus
district moneys. Expenditures from “type” capital reserve funds are generally subject to permissive
referendum requirements, as is the creation of a “specific” capital reserve fund.
Establish a Repair Reserve Fund
A repair reserve fund may be used for certain nonrecurring repairs to capital improvements or
equipment. These are repairs that don’t recur annually or at shorter intervals. This fund may not be
used to pay district operation and maintenance costs.
A district governing board resolution is required to establish a repair reserve fund. Funding
sources for the reserve may include district budgetary appropriations, transfers from unexpended
district balances or surplus district moneys. Expenditures are subject to notice and a public hearing
(except in an emergency when other requirements apply).
Establish a Reserve Fund for Improvement Districts in Suburban Towns
A reserve fund for an improvement district may be used to finance the cost of objects or purposes
that may be constructed, reconstructed, acquired, or provided by, or on behalf of, an improvement
district located wholly within a town governed by the Suburban Town Law (see Town Law Article 3-a).
The fund may be used for a specific object or purpose, or a class of objects or purposes (see Local
Finance Law Section 2.00). For water and sewer districts, objects and purposes include buildings,
additions to a water supply system, reconstruction of sewer system and certain other items (see Local
Finance Law Section 11.00).
A town board resolution is required to create the fund, which is subject to a permissive public
referendum in the affected district The authorization to establish the fund is subject to permissive
referendum in the affected district, and must set forth the maximum cost of the specific object or
purpose, or class of objects or purposes. Funding sources include budgetary appropriations or district
revenues not required by law to be paid into any other fund or account.
Review Legal Requirements
Reserve fund statutes generally provide for specific intended purposes, and requirements. Each
statute that authorizes a reserve fund sets forth a particular underlying purpose for the fund.
We encourage you to consult with legal counsel before establishing a particular reserve fund
because some legal requirements relating to the establishment, funding, use, and dissolution of
reserve funds to ensure you are complying with all provisions of the pertinent statute.
Statutory authority for reserve funds:
- Establish a Capital Reserve Fund (General Municipal Law §6-c)
- Establish a Repair Reserve Fund (General Municipal Law §6-d)
- Establish a Reserve Fund for Improvement Districts in Suburban Towns (Town Law §55-a)
Our office has created several management guides, including the Local Government Management Guide: Reserve Funds that provides more information on this topic.