Public hearing Nov. 9
By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong
Philipstown’s town budget could hit $10 million next year.
The Philipstown Town Board Nov. 2 released a draft 2017 budget that foresees spending $10,500,132. To fund that amount, it calls for collecting $7,627,831, or about 72 percent, in taxes; taking in $1,821,301 in other revenue, and carrying over a fund balance of $1,051,000.
The board has scheduled a public hearing for Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall, 238 Main St., Cold Spring, to hear residents’ input on the draft 2017 town budget.
The budget would rise by $742,475 (or 8 percent) over the 2016 budget of $9,757,657. Non-tax revenue, such as fees, licenses and fines, would go up by 5 percent.
Under the draft, the amount raised by taxes would climb $181,782 from the $7,446,049 raised through taxation in 2016, an increase of approximately 2.5 percent, in contrast to the state-imposed cap of about 1 percent.
Yet many property owners would see their tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value decrease slightly, from 2.37 in 2016 to 2.36 for 2017 town-wide, for town government costs shared by everyone; and from 3.45 in 2016 to 3.43 in 2017 for non-village residents who use town services that Cold Spring and Nelsonville residents do not need because the village governments provide them within the villages.
The budget incorporates money for the North Highlands and Garrison fire districts, which set their own budgets but channel their taxes, which fund their budgets, through the town government. Only residents within the fire district pay the district taxes.
This fall the new Garrison Fire District commission, which supervises the Garrison Volunteer Fire Company (GVFC), rolled out a 2017 budget of $776,908. That’s 27 percent higher, or $166,356 more, than the fire company’s 2016 budget of $610,552, which the Town Board approved in fall 2015 before ceding control over GVFC finances to the new fire district last January.
For their first autonomous budgets, new fire districts do not need to meet the 1 percent cap on tax hikes. By increasing its budget significantly now, the Garrison district will have a much higher baseline when the cap does apply in the future.
If the preliminary town budget figures hold, Philipstown’s other three fire departments will get much smaller increases than the GVFC. The North Highlands Fire District budget will inch upward from $740,015 in 2016 to $747,007, an increase of 1 percent. The Continental Village Fire Department, contracted to serve part of the town, likewise will see a 1 percent increase, from $260,994 to $262,500.
Cold Spring Fire Company No. 1, contracted to cover areas of Philipstown near the village, will get a 7 percent increase, from $64,425 to $69,060. That figure reflects a 35 percent increase in its Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) obligations for the pension for volunteer firefighters. LOSAP will go from $12,902 to $17,451.
The Philipstown Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Garrison Volunteer Ambulance Corps would both get 1 percent increases -– for the PVAC, a boost from $261,000 to $262,775; and for the GVAC, from $171,241 to $173,241, for a combined town ambulance coverage total of $446,576, including service award payments.
During budget-preparation workshops in October, board members expressed concerns about the future of the two corps, especially since both use paid emergency medical staff members and have infrastructure costs.
“These numbers are getting big, where you’re at the point [of asking] ‘Do we bring in a paid service and let a paid service do it?’” Councilor John Van Tassel said Oct. 12. “Basically, both of these agencies are paid; they’re paid staff, all the time” already, augmented by a few dedicated volunteers.
“At some point it will be cheaper” for the town to contract with an outside EMT service, he said in a similar discussion a week later.
Van Tassel proposed that the GVAC and PVAC merge some functions, such as dispatching, because “doing something collaboratively would extend the life of the volunteer service,” a goal he backs. Unfortunately, he told his board colleagues, a recent plan to consolidate dispatching fell apart “at the last minute. I don’t know where the plug was pulled.” Although “maybe there’s no savings” in greater sharing, he later added, “I think it’s worth looking into.”
The board informally agreed to hold a round-table discussion with both corps to consider options.
Highway and Recreation Departments
For 2017, under the draft budget, Highway Department funding would rise 13 percent, to $3,615,323. However, that’s $43,428 less than the department requested.
The Recreation Department would receive $1,059,297, an 8 percent increase.
Pay for many town officials would stay the same, but some would go up. The draft budget provides a salary of $27,000 for Supervisor Richard Shea and $18,000 for each of the four councilors, as in 2016. (The supervisor and four councilors make up the Town Board.) The pay for the wetlands inspector would remain $25,000. The town clerk’s pay would rise from $52,000 to $63,000 and the highway superintendent’s would go from $88,000 to $89,000. The recreation and parks director would get $63,650, up by $1,400 from 2016 and the building inspector/code administrator’s pay would rise from $58,000 to $65,000.