Mayor Dungan said at a recent board meeting and then again through a “press release,” that he was especially concerned with the size of the property tax increase that this proposed budget would impose on village residents. The tentative budget prepared by Supervisor Hokanson would impose an 18.25 percent tax increase on village property owners, he said.
He added that “in this economy with people losing their jobs, having their salaries reduced and struggling to make ends meet, an increase like this is unconscionable.”
The mayor pointed out that, even more disturbing, in the cover letter accompanying the budget proposal, the supervisor has misstated the amount of the increase, drastically underestimating the increase. In the cover letter Supervisor Hokanson stated, “within the village, the tax rate increase is less than 1.01 percent.”
He went on to say that his review and understanding of the tentative budget showed a “14.5 percent increase,” as opposed to the “1.02 percent,” the supervisor wrote in her cover letter for the budget.
A resident also contacted the New Paltz Times separately to say that his review of the budget showed an approximate 15 percent increase for town residents and said he would show up for this Thursday’s Town Board meeting, where the New Paltz Police Budget is to be reviewed by the Town Board, to level his frustration with the tax increase he believes is wildly different than what the supervisor has stated.
When asked by the New Paltz Times at Monday night’s budget meeting what the Town Board’s response was to the mayor’s critique of the tentative budget, Hokanson said that she “only saw the e-mail 20 minutes ago,” and thus had “no response at this time. I need to review the e-mail more closely and re-examine my numbers.”
Hokanson apologized for having no printed copies of the budget available for the press or the public at the workshop meeting because she was having difficulties with copy machine.
Councilman Jeff Logan said that he would respond to the question posed by the Times.
“The mayor is absolutely correct,” he said, pointing to Hokanson’s tentative budget and doing the numbers out loud with his calculator. “The village tax rate is 5.46 proposed at 6.46 per $1,000 (of assessed value of property), which is an 18.25 percent increase. The town is currently at a 7.25 tax rate now proposed at 8.28 -- that’s a 14.2 percent increase.”
“That’s not the dollar amount,” said Deputy Supervisor Jane Ann Williams.
“Yes it is,” Logan said. “I’m looking at the dollar amounts that will be assessed to our property owners.”
Williams concurred that his math appeared to be correct.
“Can you explain to us why you wrote in your cover letter that the increase would only be approximately 1.2 or 1.1 percent for town/village residents when really the numbers are incredibly high?” said Logan to Hokanson.
“I will examine my numbers and get back to you,” she said.
“This is a budget workshop meeting,” he responded. “Walk us through it, because I spent 20 hours this weekend going over this budget and your numbers don’t make sense.”
“I will not respond during a meeting, but will re-examine math and get back to you.”
“You’ve told us that you’ve been sequestered in your office for two weeks working on this tentative budget and unable to work on any other town business and yet you come up with a budget that claims to have a 1.1 percent increase in the tax rate, but really has more than 10 times that amount?”
Hokanson said that she “acknowledged” that the numbers did not appear, in that moment, to make sense, but reiterated that with Highway Superintendent Mike Nielson at the table ready to go over his proposed budget with the town that this was “not the time” to respond to Logan -- nor to the mayor’s recent press release.
“I will re-examine the math and respond to your concerns but you’re not going to bully me into a response,” said the supervisor.
“I’m sorry if you think that these questions, during a budget workshop meeting are equated with ‘bullying.’ But I expressed these same concerns to you this past Thursday -- that the numbers were not adding up,” Logan said.
“No you didn’t,” said Hokanson.
“Yes, I certainly did and this board also asked you to request of each department head to provide a zero increase or negative budget, which you did not agree with but you said you would do on our behalf and you never did,” said Logan. “You still haven’t sent me all of the department budget worksheets, which I’ve been asking for weeks, and you were required, by state law to provide us with a copy of your tentative budget by Oct. 5, which you did not do, so you’ve already violated state law.”
“I gave it to you the following day. Throw me in jail with the governor,” Hokanson said.
“It is what it is,” said Councilman David Lewis.
“No, it’s not Dave,” said Logan. “This is our budget and it needs to be treated seriously. We have residents with homes in foreclosure, people are losing their jobs. There are foreclosures in neighborhoods where there were never foreclosures before. I’m not sure how much time you spent on this budget, but I’ve spent a lot of time and want to make sure that it’s correct, reflects a flat or negative increase.”
“Everyone makes mistakes,” Lewis said. “Toni said she would re-examine the numbers and get back to us. Let’s give her the time she needs.”
“You’re belaboring your point,” said Williams. “Yes, let’s put it on the record that Councilman Logan is dissatisfied with the budget.”
“I appreciate your colored commentary and am concerned that you find the plight of our taxpayers amusing,” Logan said.
“Let’s move on,” Williams said.
Logan requested that the supervisor provide him and the other board members with the department worksheets by a specific date.
“I will not promise you a date,” Hokanson said.
“Well, I need a date as this budget is due, and I do not understand how you can prepare a budget without corrected budget worksheets. I’ve prepared budgets for 15 years and have required and needed corrected worksheets to accomplish those budgets.”
Hokanson said that she did have corrected worksheets, but could not apply them to the budget spreadsheet without creating a new file.
“Okay. Is it fair to say that you could have those worksheets to us by Thursday at 9 a.m.?” asked Logan. “That gives you two days -- 16 working hours to provide those. If you have other town business that is more pressing than our budget, please tell myself or Jane Ann, and we will gladly step in and work on those issues while you prepare a valid budget and provide us with the department heads’ worksheets?”
Hokanson said that she would make every attempt to have those worksheets and re-examined budget numbers by Thursday morning.
“That would be great, as we have another public meeting Thursday night [at 7 p.m.] and I would like to have corrected worksheets so that I’m well prepared, as opposed to the non-corrected worksheets you’ve provided me, as well as the worksheets that I have asked for and not received.”
Hokanson has said that she encourages all residents to participate in the budget meetings and the public hearing and to meet with her to speak with her over the phone if they have any questions or concerns to ensure that the budget process is “as transparent as possible.”