The preliminary spending plan is likely to be modified by the Town Board.
In addition, budget lines other than the general fund could somewhat reduce the magnitude of the total projected percentage tax increase. For instance, when the highway fund tax increase is added to the general fund, the percentage of tax increase comes out to 26.2 percent.
The budget will pass through successive stages, including a tentative version, before a final budget is adopted no later than November 20, as required by state law. In the interim, a public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 9, at the town offices on Comeau Drive.
In a September 22 interview Moran acknowledged that the preliminary budget might undergo substantial change during its review by the Town Board, but offered no assurances that the deliberations would lead to a significant shrinkage of the projected tax hike. “I wouldn’t make that assumption, although it’s a possibility,” he said. “Municipal budgets aren’t fat laden. We try to be realistic in our projections. Woodstock provides a lot of services — very good services — for a town of 6,200 people, but everything comes at a cost.”
Of nine separate spending lines in the town budget, four — the general fund, the highway fund, the fire district, and the library — are funded by taxes levied on all property owners, as well as by other revenue sources, and account for the bulk of the budget. The library budget is subject to approval by voters, while the fire district budget is not. The other five budget lines represent special taxation districts — water and hamlet sewer districts, Eastern and Central Wastewater districts and the lighting district, are funded only by residents and businesses served by them.
The general fund’s projected 38-percent tax rise is the major chunk of increase. According to the 2011 preliminary budget, the amount to be raised through taxes for the general fund is $3,953,921, up from $2,863,775 in 2010. Underlying the projected tax hike are increases totaling nearly $123,000 in employee retirement contributions mandated under a state system; a transfer of $200,000 to a capital fund for the proposed renovation of Town Hall; and a proposed outlay of $86,000 to fund a Comprehensive Plan.
The 2011 highway fund is projected to increase relatively modestly, by 3.6 percent, from 2010, with the spending rise attributed largely to an increase in the town’s mandatory retirement contributions. The preliminary budget calls for appropriations of $1,879,788.
On September 2, Woodstock voters approved a 2011 library budget of $531,489, which represented a tax increase of 3.4 percent. On September 21, while Moran presented the preliminary budget at a Town Board meeting, the Woodstock Fire Commission, meeting elsewhere, adopted a preliminary fire district budget of $1,161,392, which would increase taxes by 2.3 percent over the 2010 level. The fire district budget can be considered final, or nearly so, since it is not subject to voter approval or to modification or rejection by the Town Board. Taxes in the special districts are forecast to remain stable or even decrease slightly, except in the case of the water district, whose budget is projected to rise by 57.5 percent, reflecting $47,815 in increased spending, mainly for maintenance of the municipal system.
Meanwhile, revenues from a variety of sources, including county mortgage and sales tax receipts, town building fees, state aid, and interest earned on fund balances, are expected to drop significantly.
The supervisor observed that the effects of the current global recession are being felt at the state and, by extension, municipal levels. “New York State is nine thousand million dollars in debt,” he said, referring to the state’s estimated $9 billion deficit. Woodstock’s preliminary budget foresees a reduction in per capita state aid to the town to zero, from $31,000 in 2010. More significant is a precipitous decline in the town’s income from interest on investments. In 2005, before the current economic downturn, such income funded the town’s retirement obligations to its employees, Moran noted.
Other items on the agenda for the Town Board meeting included the following:
Town Hall renovation. Debate over the project’s worthiness continued following Moran’s disclosure that architectural and engineering fees would amount to nearly $97,000, according to estimates submitted by the architecture firm Robert Young Associates, which has prepared plans for the proposed renovation. The supervisor also acknowledged that the total cost of the project might not be less than $1.8 million, which is the amount that contractors bid on a previous plan for the renovation. The plan stalled at that point, since the bid total exceeded the $1.6 million limit, including $1.45 million in bonding, that voters had authorized in a 2007 referendum. Town Board members had recently reached a consensus that the project represented the best available option for housing the police and emergency dispatch departments and the justice court. “We’re (now) looking at $100,000 in professional fees,” said councilman Bill McKenna, noting that the scale of the project had not been significantly reduced from its previous level. “I think we’re going in the wrong direction.” Councilwomen Terrie Rosenblum and Cathy Magarelli, however, favored proceeding with the Town Hall option after decades of indecision by town officials on the so-called facilities matter. “I want to move forward,” they said in separate comments. Councilman Jay Wenk maintained that his efforts to contribute input to the renovation plan had been rebuffed by Moran. The supervisor rejected the charge, countering that his door was always open to Wenk and accusing the councilman of “playing to the camera” in his public statements. “If you are going to continue to insult me, I am done for the evening,” responded Wenk, who collected his belongings and departed the premises about 20 minutes before the meeting’s 10:55 p.m. adjournment. The board took no action on the renovation topic and will revisit it at a later date.
Biodiversity study. The town has received approximately $140,000 in funding for a biodiversity study to be conducted by the nonprofit research institute Hudsonia Ltd. The funding includes a $60,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s water division; a $50,000 grant from the Catskill Watershed Corporation; and a $29,000 grant from the Cornell Cooperative Extension, administered through the Ashokan Watershed Stream Management Program. The latter entity has also awarded to the town a mini grant of $4,400, for educational and outreach programs. The mini grant was described in a presentation by Mary McNamara, a Sawkill Watershed Alliance official, who assisted the town in obtaining the grants. The biodiversity study, known as the Habitat Mapping project, will identify and locate ecologically significant habitat areas throughout the town.
Water issues. A resolution, introduced by Wenk, calling for an overhaul of the management and maintenance of the municipal water system failed to gain a second. The system has been plagued by loss of treated water due to leakage and the recent need to “redevelop” its most productive well, at considerable cost. McKenna deemed the resolution unnecessary, stating that the Town Board could simply request that the next water-wastewater superintendent — longtime superintendent Kevin Hunter retired on September 7 — issue reports on the status of the system more often than annually, as has been the practice. Moran noted that the preliminary budget includes allocations for a hydrology study, the drilling of a test well, testing of water tanks and hydrants, and the probable replacement of hydrants.
Comeau documentation. In a subcommittee report on land use, Rosenblum announced that the Woodstock Land Conservancy has completed a draft “baseline documentation” of the features of the Comeau property. It now remains for Town Board members, said Rosenblum, to walk the property with WLC representatives, for the purpose of comparing their on-site observations with photographs in the baseline documentation. Rosenblum will contact WLC officials to set a date for the joint walk, which will constitute an official Town Board meeting and therefore be open to the public.
Parking lot costs. Magarelli, the board’s representative on the infrastructure subcommittee, reported that the estimated cost of 12 lighting poles for an accessory parking lot on the Upper Comeau property is $16,980.
Public hearing. The board scheduled a public hearing for 7:30 p.m. next Tuesday, October 5, at the Comeau Drive offices, on the proposed transfer of up to $569,500 from the Highway repair Reserve Fund to a capital project, for the purpose of paying for the replacement of the Van Hoagland bridge and related engineering costs.
Employee Handbook. The Town Board has undertaken a revision of the Employee Handbook, which was adopted in 2003. Proposed changes have caused some of the town’s nonunion employees, including members of the highway department, to express concern that their retirement benefits might be reduced. Moran sought to assure town employees that they would receive a draft of the revision for their review before the Town Board considered adopting the new version. According to Magarelli, three main issues remain for the board to consider. Wenk objected to the revision process and proposed that it be abandoned. “I don’t like the direction (in which) the handbook is going,” he said. “We need a new start. I would like to end this effort by a resolution or a vote.” No such resolution materialized. Rosenblum suggested that the board incorporate a task force’s recommendations into its review of the handbook. McKenna assured town employees that a majority of the board was dissatisfied with the state of the handbook and would strive to improve it.
Elementary school benefit. In a presentation to the board, Lysa Ingalsbe, who is president of the Woodstock PTA, and Jill Schwartz reminded listeners that a “walk-a-thon” to benefit the WonderWorks playground at the Woodstock Elementary School would start at 10 a.m. on Sunday, October 3, at Andy Lee Field. Participants will walk to the elementary school. Funds raised will be designated for needed repairs to the 20-year-old playground, which the speakers described as “splintering,” and for a study of safety considerations at the playground.
Planning Board resignation. The board accepted the resignation from the Planning Board, effective immediately, of Laurie Ylvisaker, who had served as vice chair of the planning agency. The Town Clerk will advertise the resulting vacancy. Ylvisaker’s term was due to expire at the end of this year. Planning Board members serve a term of seven years.++