The Shandaken town board voted on October 5 to adopt a preliminary 2016 budget that estimates a 0.54 percent tax levy increase. The vote was unanimous, with only council members Vin Bernstein and Tim Malloy and supervisor Rob Stanley present. The tax increase easily falls within the state’s imposed tax cap, this year equaling the rate of inflation, 0.73 percent.
The changes from the 2015 budget include an anticipated $11,000 increase in revenues, offset by eternally rising health insurance costs, one to three percent hikes in salaries, and higher expenses for road maintenance.
Stanley detailed the shifts, beginning with revenue increases. The town has hired a collection agency to follow up on delinquent payees for ambulance service. The new building inspector, Warren Tutt, has brought in more funds from building permits by assisting contractors in filing for repairs and identifying floodplain development that requires a permit. Income from the cell tower has gone up due to inflation, and the board hopes to rent out the vacant doctor’s office in Phoenicia.
Health insurance will go up by four to 13 percent, while state retirement contributions are going down by $20,000 for the general fund and another $20,000 for the highway department, the result of new hires and a better return on investments made by the state. The county’s gradual takeover of costs for social services and elections also cuts $20,000.
General employees will get a two percent salary increase, with a three percent raise for some whose workloads have grown. Stanley said the two percent hike is largely canceled out by employees’ increased payment into healthcare costs. He’s proposing a one percent raise for elected officials and for police. The building inspector will get a few more hours a week to handle floodplain data, key to reduction of flood insurance rates town-wide.
The town board will hold a public hearing for the final budget on Wednesday, November 4, at 6:30 p.m., preceding the regular town board meeting at 7 p.m.
National Guard clears the streams
In response to a question from Rick Ricciardella, Stanley explained how the National Guard was detailed to remove the debris strainer that caused the drowning of a Connecticut girl in the Esopus Creek last month. When forecasts predicted that Hurricane Joaquin might hit New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a pre-disaster state. Department of Environmental Conservation officials asked if the town had detected any woody debris threatening infrastructure. Accumulations downstream from the Shandaken tunnel were identified, and the National Guard brought in heavy equipment to tear out debris snarls in Allaben and Mount Tremper on Friday, October 2 —before Joaquin decided to head out to sea.
The New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) is making plans to replace the bridge along Route 42 by Glenbrook Park with a higher and longer bridge to ensure its resilience under flood conditions. DOT is purchasing a small parcel of land from the town, adjacent to the police and ambulance building, for access to a temporary bridge and grading of access to the gravel bank. Construction is expected to begin in the spring.
The town received bids for construction of the three remaining information kiosks funded by a state Smart Growth Grant, and for repair of the water-damaged portico at the historic Morton Library in Pine Hill. Both projects are scheduled for completion before winter.