Reaching agreement on a handful of eleventh-hour fiscal tradeoffs and modifications, the Woodstock Town Board on November 15 concluded its negotiations on the 2012 municipal budget and announced that it would adopt a final spending plan at a special meeting two days later.
The final budget is expected to raise the townwide levy — the portion of the total tax bill to which all property owners contribute — by about 6 percent. The levy for the general fund, the budget’s biggest component, would rise by slightly more than 8 percent, according to town supervisor Jeff Moran, who estimated that the owner of a property assessed at the townwide average would pay roughly $100 more in 2012 than in 2011.
The special meeting will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, November 17, at the town offices on Comeau Drive. In the interim following the November 15 meeting, town officials including the bookkeeper will perform a round of calculations, incorporating the changes negotiated at the earlier meeting, to arrive at a final budget.
Barring unforeseen developments, the final budget will clearly exceed the state-mandated 2 percent cap on property tax hikes, regardless of which method is employed to correlate the tax cap with the budget’s various components. (For example, the fire district and library budgets are established outside the purview of the Town Board, but are part of the overall town budget; also, “special district” taxes are paid only by residents who receive the services in question, such as water and sewer.)
Consequently, if the Town Board votes, as expected, to approve the plan in its current form, a previously adopted local law to override the tax cap for one year will take effect. “There is no possible way for the town of Woodstock to meet a 2 percent tax cap at a time of rising mandatory pension and insurance costs and shrinking revenues,” said Moran, adding that the fiscal future may be brighter. “The local economy seems to be improving, and we’ll see how that translates into the town’s share of county mortgage-tax and sales-tax receipts.”
Working from preliminary decisions reached at an earlier stage of the budget process, the board on November 15 negotiated changes that generally eliminated or altered planned spending cuts and increased, by an estimated $35,000, general fund appropriations. Major changes included the following:
- The board restored funding of Family of Woodstock to its 2011 level, $4,000, through a transfer of $3,800 from funds earmarked for the purchase of new, upgraded radios for the highway garage. The previous version of the budget had reduced the Family of Woodstock stipend to $200.
- The board reversed a prior decision to discontinue funding of the Woodstock Arts Consortium, which in recent years had received $10,000 annually to promote the town as an arts destination. The revised budget includes a contribution of $2,500 to WAC, with the funds to be raised through a $1,500 increase in the franchise fee collected from Time Warner Cable and an additional $1,000 from increased building permit fees.
- Instead of abolishing health insurance coverage for part-time elected officials, as planned, the board modified the terms of the coverage. The affected officials — four Town Board members and two town justices — will henceforth contribute 15 percent more for health insurance than full-time town employees pay. (Part-time employees are ineligible for health insurance.) The decision issued from a negotiation in which councilman Bill McKenna initially proposed a 25 percent “surcharge” for elected officials; councilwoman Cathy Magarelli suggested 20 percent, councilman Jay Wenk recommended 15 percent, and councilwoman Terrie Rosenblum favored none at all for the time being, but perhaps 10 percent in the 2013 budget. Rosenblum offered a two-part rationale: first, the actual hours worked by elected officials, particularly the justices, belie their “part-time” designation; and second, some of the affected officials might not have recently sought reelection had they known that their health insurance might be eliminated. In the end, the board coalesced around the 15 percent surcharge, which will amount to 15 percent for individual coverage (full-time employees pay nothing) and 30 percent for two-person or family coverage, for which employees contribute 15 percent.
- A proposed 20-hour reduction in the weekly time of a Maintenance Department employee was rescinded. The employee’s restored hours, along with the cost of the resulting benefits, will be divided between the town’s water and sewer budgets.
Wenk recited budget-cutting proposals, such as requiring attorneys and other consultants to reduce their fees by 15 percent and utilities doing business with the town make a similar sacrifice, that board members generally dismissed as impractical. The councilman, who won a new four-year term in the recent election, also bridled at so-called unfunded mandates exacted by the county. “Now is the time for Woodstock to organize with other Ulster County towns for a tax revolt. I think that what we should do is fight back,” said Wenk.
The outcome of the negotiations appeared to satisfy Magarelli’s goals of avoiding further budget cuts, retaining the health insurance benefit for elected officials, and, at a minimum, keeping intact the town’s support of local arts organizations, 11 of which will each receive $200 in the 2012 budget.
McKenna, noting that the proposed budget reflected deep, nearly across-the-board cuts in departmental spending, said, “We have accomplished some things. We have redesigned our government.”
Comeau Stewardship Committee appointed
In other business, the board appointed Terry Funk-Antman, Grace Murphy, Kathy Longyear, Jeff Viglielmo, Richard Heppner, Pat Jackson, and Jim Hanson to the Comeau Stewardship Advisory Committee; Tim Keefe to the Board of Assessment Review; Anthony Schleuderer as a part-time police officer; and Alan Van Leuvan as working maintenance supervisor.
Moran announced that a blood drive will take place from noon to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, November 23, at the Woodstock Rescue Squad (Fire Company No. 5) building, 226 Tinker Street. Walk-ins are welcome. For information, call Brian Berry at 679-3205.
The board postponed, until its December 8 meeting, action on a proposal to restrict automobile and truck traffic on Evergreen Lane and adjoining streets. The council expects to approve revisions of the town ethics law at the November 17 meeting.++