Woodstock Supervisor Jeremy Wilber has presented a 2016 budget proposal with a tax levy increase of 0.823 percent, meeting the state’s convoluted tax cap. But the meeting in which the document was presented was accompanied by a lively discussion of parking, increased development and possible solutions.
Spending is down slightly in Wilber’s proposal, and the amount to be raised by taxes in the combined General, Highway, Sewer and Lighting districts has risen only slightly to $5,739,550, or 0.823 percent.
The state’s tax cap calls for no more than a 2 percent increase over the previous year, or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. In this year’s case it’s the latter leaving that tax cap at 0.73 percent. But the town’s 0.82 levy increase is still below the cap because municipalities are also assigned a growth factor, which in Woodstock’s case, is 0.09 percent of the previous levy. Thus, Woodstock meets the cap because it is allowed to increase the levy approximately 0.82 percent. Fire and Library levies are decided separately and are not part of the equation.
The General Fund tax levy has increased $35,000, or 0.95 percent from $3,697,705 to $3,732,705. The Highway tax levy is up $39,740, or 2.28 percent from $1,740,391 to $1,780,131.
Though the two combine for a 1.37 percent increase, decreases in the sewer district levies brings the overall figure down to the acceptable 0.823 percent.
Spending in the General Fund is down $7310, or 0.15 percent to $4,948,905. Highway Fund spending has also decreased, by $12,142, or 0.54 percent to $2,248,826.
Spending can decrease while the tax levy increases, if other revenues are projected to bring in less in the coming year.
The Hamlet Sewer district levy is proposed at $164,471, a decrease of $18,904, or 10.31 percent, from $183,375. The Onsite Sewer district levies are proposed at $34,600, a decrease of $10,000, or 22.42 percent from $44,600.
The Garden Lighting district taxes will increase by $1000 coming year in the plan, $1,800 to $1,900, while the Street Lighting district tax levy is up from $18,500 to $19,500.
The overall spending plan includes a transfer of $125,000 from the General Fund and $110,000 from the Highway Fund to partially finance replacement of the MacDaniel Road bridge. The rest of the project will be financed by year-end surplus funds.
Wages are projected to increase by 2 percent, pending labor negotiations. That does not include the supervisor, town board, town clerk and highway superintendent, who will receive smaller raises, totaling 0.73 percent, the same rate of inflation.
The supervisor in 2016 will earn $52,470 in the plan; the Town Clerk’ salary would be $47,980; the Highway Superintendent will earn $64,797; the four town board members will be salaried at $10,141 each.
“We will have replaced three bridges in two budget cycles,” Wilber noted. The Chestnut Hill Road bridge was replaced last year, while the MacDaniel Road and Yerry Hill Road bridges are slated for 2016.
At the request of the Planning Board, the budget includes doubling the amount for consulting fees from $5,000 to $10,000 to deal with an influx in development applications.
“We are seeing an increase in intensity and size of projects,” said Planning Board Chairman John LaValle.
The Highway Fund budget also calls for $3,820 in additional labor and $36,136 in additional contractor expenses to remove dead trees on town property. Recently the Tree Committee noted areas where neglected trees can become a liability.
Parking, parking, parking
The board and others in attendance engaged in a lively dialog about the town’s growing tourist popularity and rise in development and what that means for already strained parking resources.
“One of the most serious issues is parking,” said LaValle, who urged the board to consider raising the fee paid by a business or developer in lieu of providing the required number of parking spaces. The fee is now $100 per space and LaValle is in favor of at least raising it back to the $700 it was several years ago. The money is assigned to a fund that is supposed to be used to offset the cost of maintaining existing town parking space and developing more capacity. “The town needs to build up its parking fund because the job of that fund is to build up the available parking,” LaValle said. “Right now, we have a serious problem. Applicants read our laws and say we have the right to buy parking at $100 a space.” LaValle noted that the fee is far less than the cost developers incur for constructing and maintaining spaces.
Councilman Jay Wenk, who is campaigning for re-election on a platform of increasing town revenue, asked LaValle to estimate how much more revenue is needed to help solve the parking issue.
“I think you need a professional planner to determine that,” LaValle responded.
Wilber agreed the payment in lieu of parking needs to be restored to $700 and perhaps even $1000, but said it should be used to maintain, not necessarily increase capacity.
“The town of Woodstock is subject to its geography,” Wilber said, doubting there is any space for wider expanses of parking. Instead, Wilber suggested the private sector can help. Many shops on Mill Hill Road, for example, have a lot of area behind them. If they all cooperated, it could add capacity. “You can create considerable parking there without visual blight,” Wilber said.
Wenk made another push for charging at the Mountain View parking lot. With the Rock City Road lot bringing in about $50,000 in revenue, Wenk said the Mountain View lot has a lot of potential. That money could be used to create more parking solutions.
But Councilwoman Cathy Magarelli isn’t sold. “I think the town needs to have some parking that’s not paid,” she said. Otherwise, everyone will try to crowd into the lot behind H. Houst & Son, the town’s only other free lot.
In the peak summer months, the town charges $5 a day at the Rock City Road lot, though town residents can obtain a free parking permit at the Town Clerk’s office.
Town Board candidate Janine Mower suggested the board put together a team to explore parking solutions and get everyone involved “rather than throw out numbers.”
More budget discussions
The Town Board will meet with department heads at 11 a.m. on October 13, 14 and 15 at the town offices, 45 Comeau Drive, to discuss the proposed budget. Those meetings are open to the public. The board will also meet October 16 if necessary.