By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Voting unanimously, Philipstown’s five-member Town Board on Thursday night (Nov. 18) adopted an $8,510,649 fiscal 2011 budget that both slashes expenses and increases taxes. With estimated revenue of $1,632, 934 and an unexpended balance of $110,000 on hand, the town must raise $6,767,715 through taxes. According to a data sheet provided at the meeting, for a home assessed at $200,00, the 2011 property tax bill would be $402.04 for residents of Cold Spring and Nelsonville, an increase of $22.83; and $1,024.61 for those living outside a village, an increase of $8.13.
Taking effect on Jan. 1, the Town’s budget involves both a town-wide (TW) tax and a town-outside-the-village (TOV) tax. As Supervisor Richard Shea explained to the eight-person audience Thursday, “town-wide is the tax everybody pays. If you live in the village that is the portion of the town tax that you pay. Town-outside-the-village is everyone else outside the villages of Cold Spring and Nelsonville. They pay the town-wide tax and they pay TOV.” The town-wide tax covers common town expenses, but spares village taxpayers from paying for such items as the town highway and building departments and zoning and planning since the villages provide their own services. In 2011, residents of Cold Spring and Nelsonville can expect a tax rate of 2.01, compared to 1.89 for 2010, while those living outside the villages can anticipate a rate of 3.11 plus the 2.01 rate everyone pays, for a combined rate of 5.12 .
Shea’s first budget as Supervisor
Overall, the budget, Shea’s first as supervisor, is down from the fiscal 2010 budget of $8,821,300, with $6,870,114 in taxes; it’s also slightly less than the earlier, preliminary 2011 budget of $8,573,451. “Even though no one wants to see increased taxes, I don’t think they’re unreasonable. This budget is an honest budget,” Shea said. He said work began on the budget in August, earlier than usual, and that each department was told to cut its own costs by 10 percent. “Ten percent is a big cut for anybody,” he said. “In most instances this year we achieved that or better, across the board, some of it voluntarily, some of it not so much voluntarily. But in the end it was what had to be done. That being said, it’s still offset by the decrease in revenue.”
Shea cited significant cuts in emergency services and recreation and in the town-outside-the-villages categories. “We did a lot of digging down into emergency services budgets. There were some substantial cuts,” he said. The appropriation for the Continental Village Fire Department was pared by approximately 3 percent, dropping from $256,829 in 2010 to $249,329 for 2011. “They’ve always cut it close to the bone. They really have a tight, tight budget,” which still makes their relatively small reduction from 2010 meaningful, Shea said of the Continental Village firefighters.
The stipend paid by Philipstown to the Cold Spring Fire Company for covering parts of the town went down 16 percent, from $59,660 to $49,900. The allocation for the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company decreased by 21 percent, from $742,115 in 2010 to $585,771 for 2011. The Philipstown Volunteer Ambulance Corps share slipped from $199,299 to $183,356; but the Garrison Volunteer Ambulance Corps figure for 2011 will be the same as for 2010: $112,874. The North Highlands Fire Company budget for 2011, set by the North Highlands Fire District but processed through the town budget, came in at $710,242, up 1 percent from the $700,989, in 2010. Board member John Van Tassel, a North Highlands firefighter, said that debt service constitutes 50 to 60 percent of the budget in the North Highlands district, with its recently updated fire house. Taken together, fire department outlays reflected in the Philipstown budget are down by 9 percent.
Budget increases and decreases
Some budget categories saw increases. For example, the budget for the town justices increased by 32 percent, from $94,850 in 2010 to $125,500 for 2011. In part, that reflects the need, mentioned in a New York State audit report, to hire an additional clerk to catch up on a backlog and differentiate staff duties.
Other spending lines shriveled or disappeared entirely. The 2011 budget eliminates the Town employee dental benefit; the 2010 budget provided $21,424 for employee dental coverage. Also, the budget eliminates $2,500 in equipment for the building inspection-code enforcement department, reduces payments for zoning clerical services by 13 percent, from $19,500 to $17,000; wipes out $10,000 in an “aesthetic business” category in the Planning budget; and cuts the capital outlay budget in the Highway Department by 52 percent, from $419,500 in 2010 to $201,580 for 2011. The total Highway Department budget is reduced by 6 percent, from $2,681,812 to $2,529,517.
The budget for recreation and culture also went down, from $998,869 in 2010 to $924,827. Shea noted that part of the recreation department budget comes from taxpayers and part from fees and other revenue-generators. Two cultural institutions receiving town budget money also saw decreases: The Desmond-Fish Library’s allocation was cut by 33 percent, from $15,000 in 2010 to $10,000 in 2011. But it staved off an even deeper cut; the preliminary budget called for only $5,000 for the library. The Putnam County Historical Society & Foundry School Museum suffered more. Its share went from $15,000 in 2010 to $5,000 in 2011.
However, another institution, the Julia Butterfield Library, continued to get a relatively large $276,000 in tax money, thanks to an arrangement approved by in an election several years ago. Asked if the town could put the question of Butterfield Library funding back before the voters to see if they would approve a repeal of the subsidy, Shea said that “we have no control” over the issue. “Only the Butterfield Library can lower that amount through another referendum, or the New York State Legislature through a change in the law.”
Expected revenue share reduced
If many expenses are down, so is revenue. For example, the 2010 total general fund revenue share was expected to be $1,205,652. By November, the year-to-date amount realized was $831,325. The 2011 budget anticipates $1,137,873 in income. Not so long ago, “one year, the mortgage rebate tax was in excess of a million dollars,” Shea said, adding that bank account interest earnings of $40,000 also were not rare. “This year we’re probably looking at somewhere around $251,000 in mortgage rebate tax. Revenue is down across the board. So we get hit from both sides. It makes the budget really, really difficult. We did a lot of cutting and got this budget rolled back.”
Audience member Nat Prentice, president of the Chamber of Commerce, praised Shea for the Town Board efforts. “I think it’s really important for everybody to know that you’ve managed to take this process and really flip it around,” Prentice said. In the past, he said, “this budget process all had to do with a bottom-up wish list. This year you have turned it around to a top-down, upfront” approach instead. In dealing with the departments, “you told them what it was going to look like, as opposed to them telling you in previous years that ‘we need this and that.’ I think the switch from bottom-up to top-down is a very important development.”