Town Board also criticizes snubs over grants, Butterfield meeting
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Backed by other members of the Philipstown Town Board at their formal monthly meeting Thursday (Jan. 8), Supervisor Richard Shea disputed allegations that the town tax levy for 2015 increased by 3.8 percent. In fact, he maintained, the tax levy went up by 2.74 percent and met the New York state government tax cap.
Also during the session at Town Hall in Cold Spring, Town Board members criticized being seemingly shunned at recent events featuring county officials who celebrated local grant awards and discussed the planned Butterfield redevelopment with senior citizens.
Tax levy portrayals
Shea objected that in a front-page story in the Jan. 7 Putnam County News and Recorder (PCNR), “they’re painting a picture as if we’re jacking taxes up. Of the overall bottom line of our budget, it was 2.74 percent” of an increase, Shea said. Moreover, he added, “we were under 1.56 percent in the tax-cap formula,” which gives leeway for a growth factor and contingencies that can push spending above the cap.
The 2015 budget, which totals $9,186,173 and took effect Jan. 1, calls for collecting $7,361,732 in taxes, to be augmented by anticipated revenue of $1,694,441 and an unused surplus of $130,000. The 2015 tax bill tops fiscal 2014’s figure by $196,391, representing an increase of between 2.74 percent and 2.741 percent.
The magnitude of increases in broad budget categories varies. For instance, general government support allocations, which cover staffing of various town offices, mailing and printing, and a minutiae of other overhead costs, went up by 3 percent. “Outside the villages” expenses — for services to residents outside Nelsonville or Cold Spring — climbed 3 percent, but revenues in that category are expected to rise by 7 percent.
For 2015, Putnam County’s $145.5 million budget, filling 184 pages and broken down and arranged differently from the town budget, foresees raising $40,592,368 from taxation, up by $1,338,934 from the 2014 budget, an increase of 3.41 percent. The budget anticipates $28,048,855 to come from property taxes but also expects to raise nearly twice as much, $54,739,000, in sales taxes and user taxes.
Philipstown does not get money from sales tax, because Putnam County does not return to its municipalities any of the sales tax generated in them.
As he has previously, on Thursday Shea blamed some big-ticket items beyond the town’s control as cost-leaders. “We’re dealing with things like our multi-peril insurance, since 2011 going up 21 percent — and we can’t operate without multi-peril insurance,” for buildings, vehicles and “everything we cover,” he said.
“Also, we’re looking at, just this year alone, a worker’s compensation bill that was up 13 percent” while the state retirement system costs increased 9.7 percent, he explained. “We have no say in what New York state does with the retirement; we are part of the system.” Despite these hits, “we did stay $40,000 under the allowable limit for the tax cap,” Shea said.
He likewise complained that the PCNR did not contact him before publishing its story but went through the office of Town Clerk Tina Merando via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request. Because the 2015 town budget is available online on the town website and provides 17 pages of detailed figures, it is not clear why an FOI application was necessary — or precisely how the purported 3.8 percent hike was calculated.
“It’s not fair to be calling the town clerk” or otherwise approaching her, instead of contacting him, Shea said. “I should be given a call as the chief budget officer, and I wasn’t [called]. If you want a budget discussion, you can call myself, you can call the comptroller and get fact-based information. The bottom line again on the overall budget was 2.74 percent [of increase]. That’s the levy.”
Shea also mentioned a call to a Town Board member by a senior citizen who reported a tax bill increase of $200, although the average town homeowner tax bill went up $30 to $40. “In order for your tax bill to jump up $200 you’d have to have a home valued at over a million dollars,” he said skeptically. “I’d want to see that tax bill.”
“And it wasn’t from here,” as subsequent checking revealed, Councilor John Van Tassel put in.
Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra, who represents Philipstown in the Putnam County Legislature, said she, too, had received phone calls about higher taxes. “And it’s not just the Philipstown taxes; it’s the county taxes as well” that cause concern, she said. “And it’s the school taxes.”
Scuccimarra remarked that “Philipstown is the only town in the county where property values have actually gone up. In every other town in the county property values have either stayed the same or gone down. Therefore we get a little higher percentage of the tax [load] because of that, because your property values are more. So that’s another reason.” Shea interjected that “Philipstown taxes are the lowest in the county.”
“They are. They’re very low,” Scuccimarra concurred. “But percentage-wise they’re not as low as they could be.”
“I disagree,” Shea responded. “I think they’re as low as they could possibly be.”
Councilor Dave Merandy sharply questioned Scuccimarra over a celebration of state grants awarded in December to groups and projects in or involving Philipstown, including the proposed Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail. Merandy recalled that Scuccimarra and Putnam County Executive MaryEllen Odell participated in the recognition festivities and wondered why local officials who worked on the grant materials were not also included. Shea and a Scenic Hudson staff member prepared the successful application for the $935,000 trail grant.
“I can’t give you an answer to that. I didn’t run the meeting,” Scuccimarra answered. She said she received a call from the Putnam County Economic Development Corp. office, requesting her presence.
Shea said he too “was a little put off” about not being invited when those not involved in the grant applications were spotlighted. “It’s peculiar. It sort of smacks of politics and there’s no place for that,” he said.
Merandy also brought up the Dec. 13 meeting in Cold Spring with senior citizens and alleged that often in regard to Butterfield redevelopment activities often “we’re not notified. We’re elected officials and our constituents are the people concerned about this and yet we’re not invited to any of this. As our representative, Barbara, you don’t feel you have any need to contact us?” he questioned Scuccimarra. “I think we should be invited. There should be some input from us.”
“I’ve discussed it with you before,” Scuccimarra told him. She said the December meeting was prompted by questions from elderly residents about a senior citizen center.
“Maybe the county will fund it exclusively and that’s why we’re not invited,” Councilor Nancy Montgomery speculated.
After more back-and-forth, Shea cut off debate but advised Scuccimarra that “if in the future we could be kept in the loop a little bit more, it would be great.”
“Not a problem,” she responded.