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Done deal

Tax hike reduced in final Woodstock budget

by George Pattison
November 18, 2010 12:06 PM | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Clockwise from top: Jeff Moran, Terrie Rosenblum, Amy Raff, Paul Shultis Jr., Cathy Magarelli, Paul Andreassen, Frank Engel, Jackie Earley, Jay Wenk, Bill McKenna.
Concluding a nearly two-month process of winnowing and shaping, the Woodstock Town Board on November 16 adopted a final 2011 municipal budget that will raise townwide property taxes by slightly less than 7 percent, amounting to an increase of about $90 for the owner of a property with the town’s average assessed value of $272,200.

The so-called townwide levy — the portion of the budget funded by taxes from all property owners — will increase by 6.8 percent in the final budget. That total tax hike reflects the following increases from 2010 in the four major budgetary lines that compose the townwide levy: general fund, up 11.2 percent; highway fund, up 1.7 percent; fire district, up 3.8 percent; and library district, up 3.4 percent.

Only a week ago, the operative version of the town budget had called for a 10 percent overall tax increase and a rise of 17.8 percent in taxation for the general fund. The Town Board managed to pare those prospective hikes mainly by applying an unanticipated windfall — $188,000 — in unexpended funds from the current year to general-fund appropriations for 2011.

The board had previously executed substantial spending cuts in its review of the proposed 2011 budget, which Woodstock supervisor Jeff Moran introduced in preliminary form on September 21. As a result of the board’s latest maneuver, the unexpended balance to be applied to the general fund totals $450,000 in the final budget, up from $262,000 in the version scrutinized by the board on November 9.

Councilman Bill McKenna said in an interview that in the past week he had urged fellow board members to scour the current budget for an opportunity. Accordingly, a review by the board and the town bookkeeper disclosed that the amount of unexpended funds at the end of the year would be greater than expected, although Woodstock supervisor Jeff Moran noted at the November 16 meeting that actual spending in 2010 corresponded closely with the budget’s projections.

The budget also comprises five special taxation districts whose services are funded solely by the property owners who receive them. Taxes in the final budget will decrease by 68.5 percent for members of the on-site sewer district and by 34.3 percent for members of the hamlet sewer district, in both cases due to the retirement of bonds. Water district customers face a 23 percent tax increase in order to fund higher maintenance and operating costs, as well as studies and improvements, of the town system. No tax hike is scheduled for members of the Woodstock lighting district. Taxes will rise by 36 percent for members of the garden lights district, but the total amount to be raised, barely $1,400, is negligible.

Responding to questions from a resident at the meeting, Moran reported that in 2011 the town faces an increase in required spending of approximately $425,000, while coping with a 2010 drop in revenue of more than $100,000. The spending increases include nearly $300,000 for obligations to employee unions and a $125,000 contribution to the New York State pension fund. Meanwhile, in the current year the town’s revenue from building permits declined by $35,000, from interest income by $25,000, and from the summer recreation camp by $11,000. In addition, the 2011 budget presumes flat receipts from county mortgage and sales taxes and the subtraction of $31,000 in per capita state aid that Woodstock received this year.

The town’s 2011 total budget of $8,801,957 is actually less than the current year’s total of $8,889,410. Largely as a result of the projected drop in revenue, however, the amount to be raised by taxes in 2011, $6,703,251, represents an increase of more than $200,000 over the corresponding amount, $6,493,621, for the current year.

Even with the application of a bigger unexpended balance, the town will retain a reserve — the cumulative sum of annual unexpended balances that are set aside for future use — of about $1 million for highway expenditures and over $600,000 for general-fund outlays, for a total of nearly $1.7 million. A portion of the highway reserve has been allocated for the 2011 replacement of the Van Hoagland Road bridge, at an estimated cost of over $500,000. The bridge is one of five owned by the town. By spending reserves or capital funds for such projects, the town avoids borrowing money through bond issues.

Following appeals at the meeting’s outset by three arts advocates, the board agreed to fund the Woodstock Arts Consortium in the amount of $10,000 in 2011, reversing a previous decision to reduce the group’s grant to $8,000. Concurrently, the board restored a $4,000 cut in funding to Family of Woodstock, which will receive a total of $4,500 next year. To account for the additional spending without increasing the budget, board members accepted McKenna’s proposal to delete a $6,000 appropriation for a grants coordinator.

Councilman Jay Wenk, who periodically functions as a minority of one on the board, drew sharp criticism from his colleagues when he abstained from voting on a resolution to approve the final budget. With the exception of Wenk’s abstention, the resolution passed unanimously. The councilman framed his act as a protest against the misuse of taxpayers’ money by the state and U.S. governments, for unconscionable purposes like funding overseas wars, in the case of the federal government, he said. He proposed that taxpayers stage a revolt by withholding payments of property taxes.

Said councilwoman Cathy Magarelli to Wenk, “You’re an elected official. I don’t see any purpose or benefit of your abstaining. What would we accomplish for the people of Woodstock if we abstained all the time?” Moran deemed Wenk’s act irresponsible. “Voting on the budget — the culmination of a very long, painful process — is one of the primary reasons people put you in office,” said the supervisor. Added McKenna, “Town finances are (a council member’s) number-one job responsibility.” “It’s our job to vote and make decisions,” said councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum. “Maybe we should make it illegal to abstain,” retorted Wenk as the meeting, which lasted less than two hours, adjourned.

Other items on the evening’s agenda included the following:

Public hearings. The board scheduled two public hearings for Tuesday, December 14, at the Comeau Drive offices. A hearing on proposed amendments to the town’s ethics law will take place at 7:15 p.m., to be followed at 7:45 p.m. by a hearing on a proposed new local law on animals, including the issuance of dog licenses.

Program for seniors. In a presentation to the board, residents Sam Magarelli and Victoria Reiss offered an overview of Staying in Place, a volunteer-based, not-for-profit program that helps people over age 50 to live independently in their local community. The program started in Woodstock about 18 months ago and has approximately 40 members, with a goal of reaching a total of 80 to 100. SIP is seeking volunteers to provide services to its members such as driving, shopping, assisting with routine household chores, and providing expert help with tasks like tax preparation. “Family members and friends can help seniors a lot, but seniors often don’t want to overburden them,” said Magarelli, who added that the program would welcome younger as well as older volunteers. For high school students, volunteer work offers an opportunity for community service. SIP is supported by fees and grants, which in some cases enable the organization to waive its membership fee for people in need. For information on serving as a volunteer, call 845-514-4891.

Community Center events. The board unanimously waived fees for two upcoming events at the Community Center. The first is a workshop on experiential learning for young people, to be presented by the Woodstock Youth and Family Council. The presentation, by Ken Meskill, director of the Experiential learning Program in the Margaretville area, will take place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on December 2. The second event is the annual Community Holiday Dinner, which will be held on its customary date, December 25.

Discounts for veterans. All veterans who received an honorable discharge from the armed services may obtain a card that entitles them to discounts at more than 100 participating stores ands businesses in Ulster County. For information call the county executive, Mike Hein, who developed the program, or county clerk Nina Postupack, both at 340-3140; or Terry Breitenstein, director of the county’s Veterans Service Agency, at 340-3190. Ulster County has also introduced an initiative to support the development of tobacco-free parks and playgrounds, councilwoman Rosenblum announced. For details call the Tobacco-Free Action Coalition of Ulster County at 943-6070.

Blood drive. The Woodstock Rescue Squad (Fire Company No. 5) will conduct a blood drive from 12:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. on Wednesday, November 24, at the squad’s building on Route 212 west of the hamlet. Donors should make an appointment by contacting Brian Berry, by phone at 679-3205 or by e-mail at brianberry@earthlink.net. ++

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