Residents asked to comment on draft budget by April 22
Nelsonville village officials on Tuesday (April 14) released a tentative budget for 2020-21 that anticipates about $405,000 in spending. They requested public feedback by April 22.
The Village Board intends to finalize and vote on the draft budget, which is posted at nelsonvilleny.gov, by May 1, before the start of its fiscal year on June 1. The budget for the current fiscal year was about $325,000, with much of the increase for 2020-21 to be spent on road upgrades and engineering.
Residents can email [email protected] or call 845-265-2500 with feedback. A printed copy of the proposed budget can be dropped off by request.
According to the draft, Village Board members will earn the same salaries —$4,600 for the mayor and $2,675 for each of the four trustees. The village clerk and building inspector will each receive about a 2 percent raise, to $34,807 and $6,600 annually, respectively. With the recent settlement of cell tower litigation, legal fees are expected to drop by about a third, to $20,500.
The cost of fire protection, provided by the Cold Spring Fire Company, would increase by about $3,000, to $45,000, along with $2,500 for hydrants. Snow removal costs would increase by about $500, to $10,950.
One budget line went up substantially: contractual engineering expenses, from $1,500 (later amended to $8,000) to $25,000. Village Clerk Mindy Jesek said Wednesday the increase reflects the need for ongoing expertise on such matters as the pending cell tower installation and possible exploration of sewer system options or similar public works projects. “We are using the village engineer much more than ever,” she said.
The allocation for street and road maintenance also increased significantly, from about $5,000 to $30,000. The village expects to spend $60,000 on upgrades but anticipates receiving a $30,000 state grant toward those costs.
Nelsonville anticipates receiving about $284,000 in property taxes, about the same as last year. It also expects to collect $12,000 in rent for its old firehall, which is used as a Putnam County Sheriff’s Department substation.
Other income includes $10,000 in state money and about $4,600 from fees. Total revenue would rise about 8 percent, to $351,000. The village would balance its budget by taking $54,000 from savings, compared to $1,635 last year.
In an April 8 workshop that, like all meetings during the current health crisis, was conducted remotely, Mayor Mike Bowman said the state questions accumulation of large reserves, so the village wants to start dipping into its savings to fund infrastructure projects, such as street upgrades.
At the workshop, and the regular monthly Village Board meeting on Monday (April 13), the mayor and trustees discussed likely targets: Secor, Pearl and Pine Streets, part of Division Street, and, first and foremost, Bank Street.
“That road is a disaster,” Bowman said. “It needs to be redone, the whole thing.”
I attended a Nelsonville 2020-21 budget workshop just a few days before stay-at-home restrictions were enacted. I attended because I am interested in how public funds are allocated. In fact, when I was a trustee [from 2017 to 2019], I was one of the architects of the 2019-20 budget.
During the budget workshop, a line item was introduced that calls for the village to redirect $2,710 in public funds to the Philipstown Behavioral Health Hub in Cold Spring.
While I do not disagree with the mission of The Hub, I question the propriety of redirecting public funds to a 501(c)(3) organization when Nel-sonville does not have a mechanism in place to provide grants to nonprofit organizations. Does this mean that any nonprofit should have the ability to request public funds? There are nonprofits that might not seem as worthy, and this action sets a precedent.
When I raised these concerns, I was informed that since a “health” line exists in the budget, it provided an opportunity to make a donation. To be clear, Nelsonville does not have a health department. The health line in the budget is to fund the costs associated with the registrar recording births and deaths.
The approved amount for the 2019-20 enacted budget was $250 and was a single line item. The current budget proposal available at Nelsonville’s website indicates that the enacted 2019-20 budget had a similar health line in the amount of $2,710, but this is simply not true. Showing the line item as part of the previous year’s enacted budget could be a clerical error or it could be an attempt to mislead residents into believing that it is a standard budget line item. It also allows for the year-to-year percentage increase to appear as “0” in the far right column when, in fact, it is a 984 percent increase without taxpayer input.
I wanted to make note of this issue in a public manner so that Nelsonville residents are informed. Additionally, it is worth noting that several members of the Nelsonville board are close friends of the executive director of The Hub.