Agonizing Over State Budget Cap
By Thaddeus Flint
The Town Board of Stephentown has adopted a 2018 budget of $1,5590,981 which will be partially funded through a 3.2% increase in taxes.
As the budget surpassed the New York State 2% tax cap, a vote of 60% or more of the Town Board was required to override the cap. All voted in favor of the override at the November 20 meeting, with the exception of Councilman Chris Demick, who was absent that night.
“It’s unflattering how they [NY State] portrays the 2% tax cap as being 2%,” said Councilman PJ Roder. “It reflects upon us to make it look like we aren’t doing what everyone else thinks we should be doing. It’s really not 2%.”
In Stephentown’s case, Town Supervisor Larry Eckhardt said that, while he didn’t have the exact number, he believed the Town’s 2% was really closer to .66%.
Total spending over 2017’s fiscal year will be all of $26,130. “And we lament over our budget a lot,” said Eckhardt, “the nickels, the dimes and the pennies.” The Supervisor added that the Town’s portion of resident’s tax bills is minimal compared to Rensselaer County’s part. “We can scrounge and scrimp and your tax bill doesn’t even change.”
The majority of Stephentown’s budget–just over $800,000–will go to the Highway Department, an increase of $27,915 over 2017. “When it comes right down to it,” said Eckhardt, “the Town is about the roads, getting from here to there.” The Supervisor said one example of how 2% fails to work even at 2%–never mind .66%–is that it doesn’t adequately take into consideration equipment updates and repairs. “You can’t re-capitalize your equipment at 2%,” Eckhardt said. Stephentown’s Library President Scott Menhinick, added that while NY State was implementing mandatory minimum wage increases, it wasn’t allowing Towns the ability to increase taxes by the same amount without breaking the tax cap. Minimum wage workers in the State outside of New York City, Long Island, and Westchester will see their pay increase from $10.40 to $11.80 in 2018, a rise of 6.7% from 2017. “You can’t win,” said Menhinick.
“It’s a poor way of doing business, as far as I am concerned, by the State of New York,” said Councilman Roder.
Highway Superintendent Aldi Goodermote did note that NY State was generously offering municipalities pieces of the old Tappan Zee Bridge, now rebuilt at a cost of around $4 billion and renamed the Mario Cuomo Bridge. For $1 towns could purchase 50 foot sections to be used as pre-fab bridges. “But will we have to name them after a family member?” laughed Eckhardt. “Maybe Cuomo-The-Third?”
Funding of the budget through taxes will increase from $944,801 to $975,081. Revenues are projected to be $595,900, an increase of 1.4% over 2017. The remainder of the 2018 budget will be financed with $20,000 from the Unexpended Balance. Supervisor Eckhardt said that use of the Unexpended Balance as a funding source in Town budgets has been dropping. In 2017 that number was $32,450, in 2016 it was $36,300, and in 2015 it was $54,400.
The wisdom of having money budgeted for a rainy day was confirmed by an actual rainy day a few weeks back that wiped out a utility pole at the Town’s Transfer Station. The cost to repair the pole and put in new lighting was $8,795, although the Town’s insurance should pick up much of that. Councilman Bill Jennings said that the damage allowed the opportunity to upgrade the lighting to LED technology, which will increase the lumens there while decreasing electric bills and the possibility of accidents. “Do go up and see it,” advised Jennings of Stephentown’s newly lit Transfer Station. “It really lights the place up.” Also under garbage, the Board voted, with all those in attendance in favor, of continuing Stephentown’s contract with the Eastern Rensselaer County Solid Waste Management Authority (ERCSWMA) for another year. The cost will remain the same at just under $15,000, said Jennings, and will allow Stephentown residents the ability to choose how they dispose of their solid waste, a choice not always available in other Towns. “We are still pretty independent out here,” pointed out Eckhardt.
Saving money was something of a mantra for the meeting. Supervisor Eckhardt said newly elected, and even not-so-newly elected, officials could attend a training session in Albany instead of one located in New York City, which “is expensive as hell.” Eckhardt read out the prices for rooms at the Manhattan Marriott with increasing incredulity as the prices increased depending on the view of Time’s Square. “I asked them one time,” said Eckhardt, “’am I renting the room or buying it?’”
Stephentown’s annual lighting of the Christmas Tree by the Town’s Seniors will take place on Sunday, December 10 at 6 pm at the Veterans Park.
The next regular meeting of the Town Board will be Monday, December 18 at 7 pm. The Town’s 2017 Reconciliation Meeting will take place on December 27 at 7 pm, “at which time leftover Christmas cookies will be eaten,” added the Supervisor. Further cookie-eating is expected to take place, this time with New Year’s cookies, at the 2018 Organizational Meeting on January 1 at 6 pm.