Wielding a sharp axe in a cost-cutting marathon, the Woodstock Town Board on October 25 produced a preliminary 2012 municipal budget that would reduce general fund spending by a quarter of a million dollars from the current year’s level — more than double the cut proposed in the supervisor’s tentative spending plan — and raise property taxes by slightly more than 4 percent.
The board may modify the preliminary plan, whose calculations have yet to be verified by the town bookkeeper, before it adopts a final budget no later than November 20. In its current form the budget keeps intact the Emergency Dispatch Department, which supervisor Jeff Moran had recommended replacing with the county’s dispatch service, and seeks to bolster the town’s “rainy day” fund balance by avoiding any appropriation, or transfer, of unexpended funds from 2011 to 2012.
The preliminary budget proposes 2012 general fund expenditures totaling $4,256,559, amounting to a cut of $278,599 from the 2011 total and of about $120,000 from the tentative budget, which supervisor Jeff Moran unveiled on October 4 (see Woodstock Times, October 6, 2011). Despite sharp reductions in spending, the preliminary plan would increase the tax levy for the general fund by about $133,000 from the current year, or approximately 4.25 percent.
Although the preliminary budget averts layoffs, it achieves savings through measures such as freezing all employee salaries at their 2011 levels, eliminating benefits for selected employees and adjusting work schedules for others, and cutting costs in departmental budgets throughout the town government. A public hearing on the budget is scheduled to take place at 7 p.m. next Tuesday, November 1, at the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center on Rock City Road.
Because the preliminary budget’s estimated tax increase exceeds a state-mandated cap of 2 percent, the board voted unanimously — with the exception of councilman Jay Wenk, who was absent — to adopt a local law allowing the final spending plan to override the tax cap. According to Woodstock supervisor Jeff Moran, and as reported in a recent New York Times article, local governments throughout New York, squeezed by unfunded state mandates on one side and the newly enacted tax cap on the other, have opted to override the cap, or announced plans to do so.
More cuts possible
Although the Woodstock board adopted the local law to override the cap, it is conceivable that further cuts will bring the final 2012 budget into compliance with the cap and obviate the need to implement the override measure. Estimates suggest that the preliminary budget exceeds the cap by roughly $65,000. As suggested by town clerk Jackie Earley, the board will investigate the possible reduction of a hefty unfunded mandate: an increase of more than 50 percent, from $35,000 to over $54,000, in the town’s contribution to the county’s operation of elections. According to Earley, other Ulster County municipalities are exploring ways to cut that cost. On another front, police chief Clayton Keefe agreed to consider doing without the scheduled replacement of a department vehicle.
The Town Board’s axe fell heavily during a session that lasted more than three hours, as the council members executed line-by-line cuts in a “provisional preliminary” budget that councilman Bill McKenna had developed in consultation with the bookkeeper, Pam Boyle, since Moran sought to amend his tentative spending plan last week following the discovery of a significant miscalculation (see Woodstock Times, October 20, 2011).
“The taxpayer has to understand that we are cutting services tonight,” said McKenna. “If we want to reduce taxes, we will all have to be a little more patient with our governmental employees.” He added: “We have worked pretty hard to make some painful cuts and start some trends that will help Woodstock in the long haul. I think that this is a good budget, which reduces spending by more than $200,000 from last year. I think that we have made some strides to reformulate our government. I hope that the public is paying attention and is ready to have a dialogue about town services.”