On Primary Night last month, stinging from his lopsided loss to a fellow Democrat and city employee, Mayor Shayne Gallo vowed to bring disciplinary charges against Steve Noble for allegedly mishandling grants in the city’s Parks & Recreation Department. A few days later, he backed off.
Instead, Gallo used his final recommended budget to simply eliminate the job of his one-time political rival.
Noble has worked as an environmental educator for the city for the past 10 years. A year ago he was promoted to the post of environmental programs operations specialist and given a raise. Three-quarters of his salary is paid through state grants, while the remainder — $10,405 — is paid by the city. In his recommended budget released last week, Gallo eliminated the budget line for Noble’s salary and with it, the job. Noble’s wife, Julie Noble, remains in the budget as an environmental educator.
Gallo declined to respond to a phone call seeking comment, instead asking that questions be written in an e-mail and directed to his secretary. In his e-mailed response, Gallo wrote that he had cut Noble’s position because the city had been unable to obtain reimbursement for several of the grants that were supposed to pay Noble’s salary. Gallo wrote that the city had not received reimbursement for Noble’s post for several years, including the entirety of his administration. Gallo said that city economic development director Gregg Swanzey had obtained $75,000 due the city for Noble’s position going back several years but had been unable to secure $92,000 associated with another grant. Gallo blamed Noble, Parks & Rec chief Kevin Gilfeather and former mayor James Sottile for the oversight.
“The fact is [Noble] has been operating for several without supervision from the director of parks and recreation and Mayor Sottile’s administration,” Gallo wrote. “In short, the grants associated with this position were never properly administered due to a lack of supervision and inaction on the part of the supervisor and the employee encumbering the position.”
Despite almost $1 million in relief from the county’s takeover of a formerly city-funded welfare program, Kingston residents are facing a nearly 4 percent property tax hike in Gallo’s proposed 2016 budget.
City officials say a combination of factors, including new union contracts, big-ticket infrastructure projects and increased benefit costs are driving the increase.
“A lot of things just came to a head this year,” said Alderwoman Deborah Brown (R-Ward 9) who sits on the Common Council’s Finance Committee. The committee will spend the next two months reviewing and possibly tweaking the budget proposal put forth by Gallo last week. A final budget is due by Dec. 15. Gallo was blocked from seeking another term in his September Democratic primary loss and will leave office on Dec. 31.
The total proposed 2016 tax levy is $17,664,111, up $658,983 or 3.88 percent over 2015’s. The tax increase burden, however will fall more heavily on residential than commercial property owners. In his budget, Gallo has proposed a 20 percent shift in the “base proportions” used to set tax rates under the city’s homestead/non-homestead system. Commercial property owners have long complained that the dual tax rate system taxes their parcels at a much higher rate than similar residential properties. Over the past five years, two mayors and the Common Council have introduced a gradual shifting of the tax burden onto homeowners to narrow the gap.
In Gallo’s proposed 2016 budget, the share of the tax levy paid by homestead property owners will go up 4.21 percent over 2015, while the share paid by commercial properties will rise just 3.49 percent. Reflecting the continuing imbalance in commercial and residential tax rates, however, non-homestead parcels will still, on average, see higher tax bills than their homestead neighbors. For example, according to figures contained in the new budget, a $200,000 homestead property will pay $2,029 in city taxes next year: $213 more than in 2015. A similarly valued non-homestead parcel will pay $3,651: a $255 tax hike.
Noble’s post was not the only personnel cut in Gallo’s budget. The document calls for cutting City Clerk Carly Williams’ pay by $8,000 and the elimination of a part-time position in her office. In the Corporation Counsel’s Office, the budget line for part-time staff has been cut in half. Gallo did not respond to written requests for comment regarding the other cuts. Nor did he respond when asked whether his budget included money set aside to fund back pay due to former fire chief Chris Rea. Courts have ruled that the city owes the firefighter $219,000 in back pay to cover the period between the end of his 30-day unpaid suspension in March 2012 and his eventual termination in October 2014.
Noble said this week he would not address the status of his own post until after the election. But said he hoped the Common Council would restore some of the cuts made in other departments during its review. The cuts in the Corporation Counsel and the City Clerk offices, Noble said, would make it more difficult for City Hall to function.
“It’s like he’s trying to make it impossible for the next guy to do the job,” he said.