The Town of Shandaken preliminary 2012 budget has been released, featuring a zero percent tax levy increase. The total proposed spending plan calls for $5,015,880, an increase of $68,803 over the 2011 budget, with the difference made up through such revenue sources as the unexpended fund balance and an increase in fines and forfeited bail.
Supervisor Rob Stanley said the cost-cutting measures would not interfere with services offered by the town. He cited in particular two areas slashed: records management and the assessors’ special project. “The town clerk was receiving funds to record records, but in our estimation that’s part of the town clerk’s duty,” he said. The extra payments for recording have been withdrawn.
The assessor’s special project involved hiring extra personnel to collect data on property assessments throughout the town. Stanley said the town cannot afford the $150,000 to $200,000 required to do a townwide revaluation, which is supposed to be completed within a three-year period. “This project is being done over five years,” he observed. “Since the flooding, everything they inventoried is now out the window. It doesn’t make sense to continue to pay for this.”
Starting January 1, new and elected employees will have to pay 50 percent of their single health care coverage plan, helping to offset overall increases in health care costs. Elected officials will receive no raises next year, but the budget includes a two percent raise for non-contractual employees, who have been in a pay freeze for two years.
A new line item has been added to simplify transactions regarding social services billed by Ulster County. The town has to shell out initially for such services, which are later reimbursed through county sales tax revenue, but the time lag in billing makes for confusion during the payment cycle. Adding a line item to the budget will clarify the expenditure.
On the revenue side, Stanley explained, “We were working on restoring our fund balance, which is maintained in case of a disaster but was depleted by a previous administration. Hopefully, FEMA funding will help us maintain our fund balance. Last year, I was told by the accountant that we could expect only about $200,000 in savings by the end of the year. We ended up saving $260,000, so the extra money is carried over to this year.”
The town has been keeping a tight rein on expenditures in every area, he said, including paper supplies. “We do a lot more electronically now. We’re not putting on extra shifts when we can help it. We’re watching the dimes and dollars.”
He praised highway superintendent Eric Hofmeister for keeping his department’s costs down and recouping FEMA funds for pre-Irene disasters.
Cost-cutting is not easy, said Stanley, remarking, “I have to work with all these people and then look them in the eye and say they’re not getting a raise or some of their health benefits — but in the long run it’ll help the town.”
A public hearing on the preliminary budget is scheduled for Wednesday, November 9 at 6 p.m., preceding the 7 p.m. town board meeting. Budget figures are available on the town website, www.shandaken.us
Library proposes increase
Also on the ballot in November will be a proposition to increase the Phoenicia Library’s annual operating budget by $11,000, from $83,000 to $94,000. The average increase per homeowner will amount to $3, which library director Tracy Priest observes is “the cost of a cup of coffee and a roll.”
Stanley expressed skepticism about the increase. “As much as I support the library, being an English major myself, I’m cautionary on this. We’re cutting and sacrificing. I don’t see where the public will support a tax increase during this time.”
Priest stated, “The board of Trustees remains mindful that hard times are at hand, but the proposition is a necessary alternative to cutting services. The Phoenicia Library budget has remained unchanged since 2006. Since then, usage has almost doubled in all areas, including books, circulation, workshops and programs, and computer usage. There is also an 88 percent decrease in funding on county and state levels, while operating costs and library system fees have steadily increased. The library is operating on a budget deficit, spending has been cut, and staff salaries are frozen.”
Despite the devastating fire in March, the library remains open at its temporary location across from the post office.
Cell service solutions
In other town news, efforts are being made to get cell service for Shandaken at last. It was thought that microwave transmission might be able to link the Glenbrook tower with the highway department tower, which enables highway personnel to communicate when they’re out on the roads. However, an experiment showed that a hill is blocking the microwave transmission.
“We now have to wait for the hard-wired, main transmission line to be completed to the tower,” explained Stanley. “Although AT&T has signed on to the tower, it will be [inoperable] until the lines are completed. The lines are handled by Verizon. They have informed us that they may take upwards of three months to install those lines. We have several calls and assistance from the County Executive’s office in trying to expedite their work. We will continue to push Verizon to complete this as soon as they can.”++