By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Cold Spring property owners face a tax increase of about 1 percent under the tentative fiscal year 2011-12 budget, reviewed by the Village Board at Tuesday’s night’s meeting. The draft general fund budget of $2,872,006 includes $1,404,844 to be raised by taxes, with another $1,387,162 in non-tax revenue, and $80,000 carried over from the current fiscal year, a temporary surplus from projects that the village anticipated undertaking but will not begin before the fiscal year ends May 31. Adopted in spring 2010, the 2010-11 budget of $2,081,252 called for raising $1,394,981 by property taxes, although as of the end of February the village already had received slightly more than that, $1,400,462, with another quarter of the existing financial year left.
Specifically, the expected property tax increase would be close to .7 percent, or a bit less than 1 percent. However, the village treasury involves more than the general fund. Cold Spring also maintains a separate Firemen’s Service Award budget for the pensions or deferred compensation due volunteers in the Cold Spring Fire Company after years of service. As outlined in the tentative budget, the village government anticipates increasing the tax allocation for the fire pensions from the 2010-11 figure of $43,096 to $52,570, a hike of about 22 percent. Payments from other government entities would add another $13,000 to the Firemen’s Service Award account. As the board looked at the draft budget, subjects ranging from legal fees to snow removal costs, police compensation and the salaries of the mayor and trustees all prompted questions or debate.
Repairs to Main Street and the firehouse floor
In terms of the overall picture, “what’s notable is that the general fund goes to $2,872,000, due to putting in the money for the two Main Street projects for work on streets-sidewalks and storm drainage,” Mayor Seth Gallagher explained. “The majority of that money does not come from property taxes but comes through the federal grant,” more than $800,000 for a project anticipated for the last several years. However, Cold Spring will spend about $36,000 of its own as its contribution to construction outlays, he added.
The tentative budget also sets aside $24,000 for repair of the deteriorating floor in the Cold Spring firehouse; $248,00 for police personal (or personnel) services, part of a total policing expense of $324, 916 — down from the $328,091 budgeted for fiscal 2010-11; $53,000 for village attorney-legal services, a reduction from the $58,000 of the current budget; and $1,246,300 for the highway (street) department, a sum that includes the federal funds for the Main Street improvements as well as $15,000 for personal services for snow removal.
Trustee Charles Hustis wondered whether the latter amount would suffice, given recent meteorological developments. “I’m just thinking $15,000? And considering that the earth shifted on its axis by eight degrees with that earthquake in Japan, the weather can go wacky in the next year.” Gallagher told him that if necessary extra money for snow removal could be transferred from other parts of the highway department budget, since the crews that remove snow also handle other street needs. If they’re spending more time and money on snow, they’ll spend less on other activities, he said, and “the money will just be moved from one to another as we need it.”
Police department costs
Trustee Airinhos Serradas asked about the funds designated for the police. “I’d think we’d have money left over” from the current year, he said. “I don’t see any reason to go to $248,000. My objective is to keep taxes as low as possible. I’m not even a fan of the 1 percent tax [increase]. I think if we do this correctly, we can eliminated taxes altogether.”
“I think that’s how you end up with a deficit. And that’s when you get into problems,” Gallagher replied. Besides, he said, “we actually owe money for the last three years” to the police in retroactive pay.
Philipstown.info later asked Gallagher if the village has weighed the costs of having law enforcement services provided by the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department instead of through a village-run police force, perhaps with the current police officers switching bosses to work for the county rather than the village. Gallagher replied that “from time to time that has come up,” but not recently. He cited two likely drawbacks — costs and control. “I don’t think you’d necessarily save money” in contracting with the sheriff’s department, he said. Furthermore, he said, “you wouldn’t have the control” locally since the authority would lie outside the village. “It’s a control issue.”
During the Tuesday meeting, Serradas urged cutting the amount proposed for legal services from $53,000 to $45,000. The 2010-11 provides $58,000 for attorney fees. Gallagher disagreed with slicing several thousand dollars from that category. “This is an area where you can’t tell how much you’re going to spend. I’d rather have too much in there than too little,” he said.
Pay for mayors and trustees
As for the board members’ own pay, Gallagher noted that the draft budget does not increase the mayor’s salary. Currently, the mayor gets $9,120 yearly as base pay, plus another $1,041 for serving as the finance committee chairman. Gallagher said he works 30 hours a week as mayor, for roughly $10,000 a year and no benefits. “At the end of last year, I did say I was going to include in the tentative budget a raise for the mayor. I did not do that,” he told the trustees. “I’m hoping that the board can raise that at some point.”
“I’m afraid I don’t have much sympathy,” Serradas said. Gallagher responded that when the board discussed the possibility of a mayoral raise several months ago, “there was no objection to it,” even from Serradas. A year or so ago, then-Trustee Gordon Robertson similarly proposed such a raise, he said, and the board subsequently agreed in theory to boost the mayor’s pay by $5,000 well before an election, so no one would know who, as mayor, would be the beneficiary of the increase in a new budget year. Gallagher also noted that under the proposal the building inspector likewise would get a raise.
“If you’re going to get a raise, I think everybody else should get a raise, too. We work hard” on the board, as well Hustis said. Nonetheless, he acknowledged, “you’re the rooster in the henhouse.” Trustee Bruce Campbell told Hustis that the burden borne by a mayor exceeds that of a trustee. “There’s no comparison, Chuck. You’ll find that out as you get a little more experience.”
“Bruce, I wasn’t being greedy for me,” Hustis answered. “I was trying to help you out. So don’t pick on me.”
The board plans further work on the budget, with a public hearing on it set for April 7.