The Olive town board passed its 2015 budget on November 10, coming in under the mandated two percent budget increase cap after a well-attended budget hearing in which residents convinced the board to cut down to a 1.56 percent increase in the tax levy.
“We proposed a preliminary 2.7864% increase,” said town supervisor Sylvia Rozzelle. “We went over the cap last year at 4.1%, and absolutely no one showed up at the public hearing,” her 31st budget hearing since she’s been working for the town, but her first as Town Supervisor. “Last year we had to pass a local law to override the tax cap. This year we had quite a show at the hearing.”
The board made cuts to the budget for police, the senior recreation program, the swimming pool, records management, and legal fees. Also slashed was money for engineering, which had been set aside in the hope of planning toward a new town office building. With half the town offices on Watson Hollow Road in West Shokan, and the court and police department on Bostock Road in Shokan, Rozzelle said the town is spending excessive amounts on maintaining two buildings. “We need to get everyone under one roof, and it needs to be energy-efficient.” Furthermore, the Watson Hollow office was threatened by flooding during Hurricane Irene. However, the engineering budget for this purpose has been eliminated, and Rozzelle hopes to apply for grants instead.
The adopted budget leaves only $3,000 in the unexpended fund balance, available for emergency needs or for offsetting future budget increases or revenue shortages. “I’m hoping it doesn’t bite us in the rear this year,” said Rozzelle. “We listened to the people. The Governor, in his tax cap, is succeeding in what he wants to do, trying to bankrupt us, maybe to force us into consolidating with the county.”
Rozzelle cited a page on the state website, under the heading “citizen empowerment,” explaining ways of dissolving local governments and consolidating them with other entities. “Our little local municipal government is accessible,” she said. “We listen to our public. This is the local government where you get your best bang for the buck.” However, she feels the tax cap does not allow municipalities to raise the money they need to maintain infrastructure.
“Everything goes up,” she pointed out. “Look at the cost of fuel. Hopefully the cost coming down will help us a little this year. The cost of electricity doesn’t stay at 1.65 percent. You cannot stay at the tax cap and fix what needs to be fixed — it’s not sustainable.” She quoted figures on Olive tax apportionment showing that for every dollar Olive residents spend in taxes, 60.4 cents goes to the Onteora school district, 28.4 cents to the county, and 16.4 cents to the town government. “For 16.4 cents, you get a good deal.”
Olive is addressing flooding issues through a series of grant applications. The town’s flood advisory committee has already submitted an application to fund training of building inspectors as certified flood plain managers. An application to Ashokan Watershed Stream Management Program (AWSMP) is due on December 5 for a Stream Management Implementation Project (SMIP), to start the process of creating a flood mitigation plan. This plan will put Olive in position to reduce flood insurance rates, which are scheduled to skyrocket in the next few years.
Congress has delayed the implementation of the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012, designed to keep FEMA solvent after the claims resulting from Hurricane Katrina. At a seminar, Rozzelle learned that the annual insurance premium for a $250,000 home in the floodplain is expected to be $9500, with 25 percent increases over five years. “If we enter their community rating system and make an application, we should see a five to 15 percent reduction,” she explained.
SMIP funding, which comes from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, will launch the creation of a flood mitigation plan in the watershed portions of the town. A grant has already been received from Hudson River Valley Greenway for $8500 for planning within the one-third of Olive that is located outside the New York City watershed. To fill out the AWSMP grant application, the town put out a request for proposals to engineering firms and received six responses. The flood advisory committee has interviewed two firms and will decide next week whether to hire Woidt Engineering of Binghamton or the consultants involved in much of the flood work in Shandaken, Milone and MacBroom of New Paltz.
The town is still waiting for funds to be released for the NY Rising community resiliency grant, which comes from the Federal government but is administered by the state. Rebuilding the town hall was one of the proposed projects rejected by NY Rising, in favor of various flood mitigation measures. Also still to arrive is FEMA money for repair of the Boiceville wastewater treatment plant, damaged in Hurricane Irene, and for the purchase of the Trail Motel, which was devastated by the same event.
Application is underway for another AWSMP grant, to hire engineers for Local Flood Analysis, which will help identify and implement projects for flood prevention throughout the town. “Boiceville was underwater three years ago, and that’s our primary business center,” said Rozzelle. “In Watson Hollow, there are 183 homes above the bridge. When the bridge was out, a five-minute drive to West Shokan became an hour-and-half drive, and people were cut off from emergency services and fuel. Flood mitigation is pretty vital.”