“What that means is that our property taxes would double in ten years if those increases stayed the same and that is unacceptable,” board member Jeff Logan said.
Out of the $11.6 million budget, approximately $9.5 million needs to be raised from property taxes.
The supervisor has said that the increase in the tentative budget over last year was in large part due to contractual raises for employees, as well as the New Paltz Police Department (NPPD), state retirement funds and ever-increasing health insurance costs and worker’s compensation increases.
Although nothing has been voted to be put in or taken out of the budget by the board yet, areas which have raised some ire and debate center around proposed salary increases for the supervisor, town clerk, two town justices and the highway superintendent.
At last week’s meeting, board members Logan and Kitty Brown praised Highway Superintendent Mike Nielson for denying himself the raise and for having a zero-increase budget. “He has also started a program of reducing a fleet of vehicles to save money and negotiated a shared-service agreement with the county to pay us for plowing and have them plow some roads for us,” said Logan.
Hokanson has justified what amounts to a three percent raise by stating that those positions have not “received a raise in two years, so it’s really a 1.5 percent raise, which is not even a cost-of-living raise.”
Councilman Logan said he found it unconscionable that the supervisor be proposing raises “when we have people out of work, others living paycheck to paycheck.” He also said he opposed the chief of police getting a proposed three percent raise.
Councilwoman Kitty Brown and Logan have also attempted to find areas in the NPPD budget to cut, but have yet to get the majority of the board to agree with them. Now they’re waiting for more answers from the chief on ways they might cut down on overtime costs.
Logan has suggested cutting the $200,000 dispatching line. The chief has said that he’d rather Logan and Brown and others come to him during the year, see what the dispatcher does, get a better understanding of the service they provide “and work together on ways we might find reductions rather than saying you just want to get rid of an entire line when the budget is due.”
The NPPD budget is approximately $4.5 million.
Village Trustee Shari Osborn added that in her estimation, “village residents are very happy with the amount of foot patrol and bike patrol that is happening downtown. The program is working very well.”
She also asked that the Town Board consider funding some sort of school resource officer program in town.
“I know DARE is gone, but there are many good programs out there that the chief has explained to us,” she said. “I know you are working with the school board about how to pay for this, but I think it’s important that we keep an officer in our schools and work on education and early intervention.”
“If you’re asking us to put money in our budget for an officer in the schools, I will tell you that I’m not willing to do that,” said Hokanson. “We can do what Hyde Park does and that is to have the school district pay for a police officer in the schools so that the money is spread out over all of the district taxpayers and not born solely on town taxpayers.”
The third largest line in the proposed budget is for recreation. At last week’s Town Board meeting, recreation director Chuck Bordino did not have his spreadsheets nor his cost/revenue sheets for the Community Center, so there was little the board could do when they met with him.
“We’ve been able to do nothing with recreation because the budget lines have not been completed nor delivered to us,” said Logan. “It appears that there is $100,000 being put in for the Field of Dreams. But in these times, I do not believe that we can afford to be putting money like that into recreational facilities that will need more money to be maintained.”
Hokanson argued that the money could be taken out of the parks and recreation fees, which are paid to them by developers every time a new lot is created. That money is collected specifically for the Town Board to use towards the purchase, creation, expansion and improvements of passive and active recreation for town residents.
That issue has still not been resolved.
The public that showed up at the last budget workshop meeting certainly lobbied for the board to make cuts and reduce taxes, not increase them, despite an e-mail that the supervisor sent out asking people to come to the board meeting to support the NPPD and recreation -- two budget items she felt were being threatened. Members of the public also expressed frustration that the meeting was scheduled for 7 p.m. on the agenda and the website, but were told that was “an error” by Hokanson and that the meeting was slated for 7:30 p.m. This was the second meeting in a row that had the time advertised wrong.
Logan believes that the board can come up with a zero-increase budget or a smaller increase but that “we need everyone to pitch in during these tough times and everyone is not willing.”
The public hearing will take place at 7 p.m. at Town Hall this Thursday night and the final budget must be passed by Nov. 20.