The final financial study of a consolidated New Paltz is in, and it seems to spell good things for both the village and town. According to Deputy Mayor Sally Rhoads, that report shows $1.62 million in projected savings if the two municipalities merge.
“Obviously, finances are a key ingredient to our determination as a community as to what we should do,” Rhoads said.
The Finance Committee used the actual 2011 expenditures of the village and town to estimate what might happen if New Paltz ditched the old dual government model for a unified board. Former town supervisor David Lent, who chaired the finance group, noted that when committee members disagreed about which budget number might see reductions, they kept the higher figure.
Lent said that they probably underestimated the savings a merger would have to be on the safe side.
“We’re going to get a vote, I suspect. And it’s your opportunity to do something about taxes — you personally to do something about taxes,” he said. “And if you fail to do that, if you turn down this opportunity, don’t ever — don’t ever complain to anybody about the taxes in the town or village of New Paltz.”
Finance Committee members showed a much greater tax break than previously predicted by the old Fairweather report, which also studied consolidation. If New Paltz scores the state Citizen Empowerment Tax Credit, it could mean that villagers see a 43.8 percent reduction in property taxes and townsfolk a 23.4 percent reduction.
However, that figure assumes that New Paltz would get the full $1 million of annual state aid following the merger. It also assumes that a business improvement district would be created to place an additional tax on what police know as “Village District 6.” That one zone — home to most of New Paltz’s bars — sits in the village core and alone is the source of about 25 percent of all New Paltz Police Department calls.
Taxpayers in the proposed special police district would only see a 0.63 percent tax decrease in a “best-case scenario” merger.
Even if a unified New Paltz can’t snag the state tax credit, village taxpayers could save 34.3 percent on their current tax rate if consolidation goes through. Town taxpayers would see a 10.5 percent reduction.
Gerald Benjamin, the director of SUNY New Paltz’s Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach, said he had faith in the work done by the committee. Benjamin has been an advisor to two governors and is recognized statewide as an expert in local governments.
“I just want to say that the eyes of the state are upon us,” he said. “Now I’m hearing high-level state officials say, ‘Gee, this might be an answer for New York more generally.’”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo started the push to get local governments to merge back when he was attorney general. While it’s remained a goal for his administration, few municipalities have taken advantage of the government reorganization program. In August, New Paltz consolidation advocates won a victory when Deputy Mayor Rhoads and Supervisor Susan Zimet convinced the Legislature to amend state law and let coterminous, “townwide villages” receive the funding too. If New Paltz politicians can prove that their proposed merger would create savings, it could net the town up to $1 million each year — 70 percent of which would go to offset property taxes.
A majority of the Town Board and Village Board voted to accept the Finance Committee report. However, town Councilman Jeff Logan and Mayor Jason West voted against it.
Both men objected to not having enough time to pour through the report. “It was just handed to me now,” Logan said on Jan. 9.
Supervisor Zimet countered that statement, noting that both boards had agreed to receive the reports first and fully discuss them or criticize them at Jan. 15’s special meeting.
Mayor West has emerged as a critic of consolidation as currently proposed. He said the budget breakdowns provided as an appendix to the report didn’t provide enough detail.
“If you’ve got a $10 million corporation and a $5 million corporation and you merge them, you’ve got a $15 million corporation. It takes the same number of hours to go through the purchase orders for an auditor,” he said. “The footnotes are very, very vague.”
He did circle some numbers he found suspicious — for instance, lawyer fees. In 2011, the village paid almost $60,000 for legal counsel. The town paid about $115,000. Combined that’s about $175,000 for attorneys. Finance Committee members estimated that a merged government would pay $95,000.
The mayor found that calculation a tad simplistic. West thinks an attorney would likely view the merged New Paltz as a whole new entity — and charge accordingly.
“When you’re walking into something blind, it feels more like a sales pitch than a policy discussion,” he said.
Town and village officials were scheduled to meet on Jan. 15 to discuss consolidation again. If board members do move forward with consolidation, New Paltz voters could see the question on the ballot before the end of the year.