Home to roost

Supervisor James Quigley explains proposed tax hike in terms of past actions of Ulster’s town board

by Hugh Reynolds
October 07, 2010 04:10 PM | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Supervisor James Quigley
Supervisor James Quigley
Two years ago, former Ulster town supervisor Nicky Woerner presented a budget with a 21 percent tax increase. It may have cost him his job.

Last week, James Quigley, the Republican who beat Democrat Woerner by an almost-two-to-one margin, offered a budget calling for a 17.6 percent property tax increase for 2011. Quigley, in presenting his first budget as supervisor, expects the town board to reduce the tax levy. The town highway budget is up almost 16 percent.

“The debts have come due,” Quigley said, referring to previous forced borrowing for assessments settlements with commercial properties, the new senior center next to town hall, and penalties for environmental-related violations.

Former supervisor Woerner was not available for comment on the proposed budget; neither were other members of the town board.

Quigley indicated the budget he presented September 30 to the town clerk will offer the five-member town board – all Republicans – some wiggle room. “I offered what is a business-as-usual budget,” explained Quigley. “The message is, this is what it looks like if you continue to do what you have been doing over and over for years and years.”

Quigley’s $7-million budget increases spending for 2011 by about 6.5 percent. Owing to a negative fund balance of $193,000 left by the previous town board, the current supervisor is presenting a budget with a $300,000 deficit. “The fund balance is gone,” he said. “We are not able to use the fund balance to offset the tax increase.” By law, revenues and expenses must balance.

Some of this year’s budget stress could be relieved by a proposed reduction in the police department from 33 to 28 officers. Quigley said four police officers have submitted retirement papers, and one other may follow. Retirees include chief Paul Watzka, who left on September 30 after nine years.

The chief, whose base salary was $94,000, will be replaced from an internal civil-service list, Quigley said. “We will not be making a new hire there.” He is recommending the other police slots not be filled.

Quigley said the $50,000 “retirement incentive” paid Watzka when he left will come out of departmental funds. “He was budgeted for the entire year. What with other expenses associated with the position, it was almost a wash,” he said.

Quigley said the town’s tax base was flat, with little prospect of growth in the near future. “Put in perspective, the largest building project in the town [this year] was a one-million-dollar renovation of a bank. To hold the tax rate, the town needs at least $30 million in new [tax base] a year,” he said.

Among leading expenses, Quigley cited health insurance (up a projected 19 percent next year) and retirement (up 15 percent). The supervisor said he will discuss with the town board the possibility of changing plans and/or carriers to reduce insurance costs.

He said he has notified unions representing town employees that no salary increases will be offered next year. “I can’t promise there won’t be layoffs,” he said.

Due to the economy, the supervisor is projecting an increase in safety-net expenses (welfare payments) from this year’s $160,000 to $275,000.

The town board is required to hold a public hearing on the budget no later than four days after the November 2 election. A balanced budget must be adopted by November 20.

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