By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

The Philipstown Town Board voted unanimously Thursday night, Nov. 17, to adopt an $8,815,276 budget for 2012, with $6,955,192 of that to come from taxes. The entire budget is about 4 percent above the fiscal 2011 total of $8,510,649. The portion of the 2011 budget covered by taxes was $6,767,715. According to Supervisor Richard Shea, a Cold Spring or Nelsonville resident, paying the town-wide rate, with a home with an assessed value of $300,000, can expect a tax increase of $23.07 for 2012, while a comparable homeowner living outside a village would pay an increase of $68.31.

As the supervisor has previously explained, all Philipstown residents, including villagers, pay the town-wide tax. The “town-outside-the-village” category covers everyone outside Cold Spring and Nelsonville, who pay the town-wide tax and as well as the share for things provided outside the villages. The town-wide tax covers common town expenses, but spares village taxpayers from paying for certain items, such as town building department services, provided for village residents at the village level. Councilors John Van Tassel, Nancy Montgomery, Betty Budney, and Barbara Scuccimarra joined Shea in voting to approve the budget, which becomes effective Jan. 1. Shea noted that the statewide 2 percent cap on property tax increases loomed large in the process, too. “The bottom line is the levy comes in under 2 percent,” he said. “We’re meeting the cap.” Although there were calls in Philipstown and elsewhere in New York State to override the cap, the 2 percent restriction “seems to be the will of the people” throughout the state, he said.

Shea said that three items in particular will cost the town in 2012 — pensions-employee retirement obligations; road repairs after heavy summer and fall rain, devastating snow storms in both winter and October, and a hurricane; and equipment leasing in the highway department. According to the supervisor, for retirement benefits, handled through the New York State program, in 2010 Philipstown paid $118,000; in 2011 the figure rose to $193,000, and for 2012 it escalated to $287,883. “Those are big jumps” and paying them “is not a discretionary thing,” Shea said. “We’re in the retirement system. We need to send in that money.” He pointed out that the state exempted pension cost increases from the 2 percent cap. “Part of what drives the [tax] levy up though, is the bottom line number of adding that in,” he explained.

Highway Department Costs: Roads, Snow and More
Shea also cited the highway department as “another area where we don’t have a lot of discretion this year. We have to do repairs to the roads. That is our infrastructure. There’s no getting around it; we need the roads.” He said that highway department expenses include repairs, capital projects, and a new six-wheel dump truck, being paid for through leasing arrangements. “We’re replacing trucks that are over 20 years old,” he added.

The overall departmental budget for highways outside villages is $2,702,351, a 7-percent increase over the 2011 figure of $2,529,517. In 2010, the town spent $2,200,850 on the highway department. Specifics include $126,557 for equipment leasing, up from $112,964 in 2011; more money for general repairs, from $631,922 in the 2011 budget to $700,618 for 2012; and $323,766 for 2012 for snow removal, up from the 2011 budgeted amount of $319,754 (of which the town had spent $284,453 by Nov. 17).

Fire Departments
The budget includes increases for each of the town’s four fire departments. The North Highlands Fire Department will get a 1 percent increase, up from $710,242 in 2011 to $717,624 for 2012. The Garrison Volunteer Fire Company (GVFC) and Continental Village Fire Department both get 2 percent increases. The GVFC allocation is $596, 269, up from $585,771 last year; Continental Village will draw $254,029, up from $249,329 in 2011. For Cold Spring Fire Company No. 1 (CSFC), the increase is heftier -– 33 percent, reflecting a 25-fold increase in the town’s portion of the fire service award, the pension paid volunteer firefighters. For 2011, the award share was greatly reduced, at $594 offering a financial break that year. By comparison, for 2010, it was $11,050. Now, for 2012, the pension contribution will be $15,444. In 2011, the overall CSFC payment from the town was $49,900; for 2012 it’s set at $66,541.

Salary Increases
In a change from the draft budget discussed earlier this month, the final budget includes a $1,000 salary increase for all personnel, including the supervisor and Town Board members. That means Shea’s pay will be $26,000 and that of the Town Board councilors will be $18,000 annually, and the highway superintendent will get $91,000. During the meeting, the board also added $1,000 for the fire marshall, a job handled by the code enforcement officer on top of his other duties but not funded in fiscal 2011.

One member of the three-person audience, Michael Bowman, Cold Spring Fire Company president, criticized the raises. “I appreciate all the work you guys do. But I can’t see justifying the pay raise in the economy right now,” he told the board. Shea defended the increase. “We don’t have a lot of high-salaried employees here,” he said. “There are going to be raises this year. The Town Board has gone four years without a raise.”

Revenue and Talk of Consolidation
While it includes higher expenses in some categories, the budget also anticipates additional revenue, Shea said. For example, a recent move to bring in an assistant district attorney to prosecute town Justice Court cases is expected to generate about $115,000 in income in 2012, he said. The court brought in $55,734 in 2010 and so far this fiscal year has brought in $54,248. In the end, given the complex demands and need to balance revenue and costs and respect the 2 percent limit, “it’s as good as we can do,” Shea said. “We spent a tremendous amount of time on the budget this year. There was a lot of back and forth – ‘raises’; ‘no raises’ and other last-minute decisions. ”It is a huge relief to be done with all of this now.”

Looking toward the future, he mentioned the possibility of getting better local government quarters, sharing space, and consolidating functions, starting with the three justice courts currently operating in Philipstown, if a proposed local government center is built at the old Butterfield Hospital site in Cold Spring. In fact, the town and Nelsonville justice courts could consolidate now, using existing facilities, he said. Bowman suggested other mergers as well. “Hopefully, next time, you can consolidate all the villages,” he said, setting off a bantering exchange of ideas.

“Sounds like a plan!” Van Tassel concurred.

“Get working on it,” Shea told Bowman.

“Let’s start with the firehouse,” Van Tassel added.

“I don’t want to go there,” Bowman demurred.

“What about consolidation?” Shea wondered. “You just brought it up.”

“Yeh, I was talking about the villages!” Bowman replied.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Armstrong was the founding news editor of The Current (then known as in 2010 and later a senior correspondent and contributing editor for the paper. She worked earlier in Washington as a White House correspondent and national affairs reporter and assistant news editor for daily international news services. Location: Cold Spring. Languages: English. Areas of expertise: Politics and government