Increase stays within the state tax-hike cap
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Philipstown’s Town Board Thursday (Nov. 20) approved a $9,186,173 million fiscal 2015 budget that stays within the New York state tax-hike cap and pays for town infrastructure, operational, maintenance, personnel and related costs as of Jan. 1. It reflects an increase of approximately 2 percent over 2014, within New York state’s mandated limit on tax hikes. (Although the official cap is 1.56 percent, the state permits flexibility to cover local contingencies.)
Board members unanimously adopted the budget at a special evening meeting, but only after tweaking the final draft further to provide $15,000 more than anticipated for the Philipstown Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
The budget calls for raising $7,361,732 in taxes and augmenting that income with $1,694,441 in revenue and $130,000 in unspent reserves. Not all taxpayers can expect to pay for expenses in all categories. For example, fire protection expense burdens fall to those who live within the bounds of one or another of the four fire department coverage areas. Likewise, residents living outside Cold Spring or Nelsonville bear costs of some town-level services duplicated for villagers by their village governments.
Councilors Nancy Montgomery and John Van Tassel joined Supervisor Richard Shea in adopting the budget. Councilors Dave Merandy and Mike Leonard were absent.
Shea noted that spending for emergency services and the Philipstown Highway Department account for about two-thirds of the budget. Together, they total $5,084,343, which consists of $2,065,693 for the ambulance corps and fire departments plus $3,018,650 for highway and transportation costs. He praised the emergency service volunteers for their dedication, including the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company’s recent efforts in pulling together its financial data.
The budget gives the Continental Village Fire Department $259,608, an increase of 2 percent over fiscal 2014; Cold Spring Fire Company No. 1, which covers parts of Philipstown beyond the villages, $64,425, up 1 percent; the North Highlands Fire Department, whose money channels through the town government from the North Highlands Fire District, $730,588, also up 1 percent; and the GVFC, $604,702, likewise an increase of 1 percent.
However, of the GVFC share, the portion for general firefighting dips by 5 percent, from $538,970 in 2014 to $510,623. Simultaneously, the department sees a substantial rise — of 101 percent — in spending for its service award program, a firefighter pension. In fiscal 2014, the award required $36,324. For 2015, it will take $73,079.
Ambulance corps add-on
When a couple of PVAC representatives arrived mid-meeting to make the case for more money for their organization, they got it — in part. The PVAC received $193,930 for 2014 and the Town Board’s final draft budget called for giving it $208,930 for 2015, an increase of $15,000. At the urging of PVAC leader Chris Tobin the board threw in another $15,000, bringing the PVAC total to $208,945.
“If we can do it and stay under the cap, I support it,” Van Tassel said, shortly before the board agreed to add the extra $15,000.
Shea said that, even with the change, “we’ll still be in the neighborhood of $48,000 under the cap.”
Nonetheless, the PVAC had hoped for a higher amount and Tobin cited revenue concerns as well as crucial needs. As Shea noted before the PVAC men arrived, the ambulance corps seeks to acquire two new ambulances to replace inadequate vehicles.
The sum set aside for town government buildings goes up; it will be $148,000, 10 percent more than the $134,000 earmarked in the 2014 budget. “We have maintenance issues” to address, Shea commented. Similarly, “we are looking to be doing just a little more maintenance on cemeteries this year,” and thus boosted funding for that from $2014’s figure of $6,800 to $7,500 for 2015. The town cares for historic graveyards.
Basic salaries for Town Board members will continue at the 2014 level. Shea will make $26,000 as supervisor and the councilors will earn $18,000 each. Nonetheless, Shea will get a raise in his separate capacity as town budget officer. For 2014, the budget officer job paid $6,000; in 2015, it will provide $7,000. He himself called attention to the additional $1,000. “I did increase the [pay for] the budget officer, and that is me. I’m going to put in a lot of hours on the budget. I just want to be in front about that,” he said.
Highway Superintendent Roger Chirico will again receive $92,250, as in 2014. Town Clerk Tina Merando likewise will see her salary stay static, at $51,000. But Amber Stickle, director of recreation and parks, will get $61,250, up from $60,250.
As he has previously, Shea described the difficulties of producing a budget that hews to the tax cap while meeting state demands for things that municipalities must do and pay for out of their own funds, even as they contend with dire infrastructure needs. As an example of uncontrollable items, he mentioned various personnel programs and benefits. “We are under the cap. We did meet the state mandate,” he said. Yet, given the tension between the cap, imposed expenses and basic needs, “this is all a race to the bottom anyway,” he remarked ruefully.