The Gardiner Town Board voted on November 10 to override this year’s .68 percent tax cap imposed by the New York State Comptroller’s Office by $10,000. This allows a .87 percent increase in local taxes to town residents for 2017, with a total tax levy of $2,595,996.
In previous years, towns that opted to adhere to the tax cap — originally set at two percent but gradually tightened — were offered a small property tax rebate to each homeowner. That incentive, however, has now been eliminated. “There are no more rebates,” said town supervisor Marybeth Majestic at the meeting.
In the public hearing on the tax cap override, Gardiner resident and former county legislator Glenn Noonan objected strenuously to the budget increases, alleging financial mismanagement and claiming in particular that elected officials were being paid too much compared to some other towns in Ulster County. “We did look into what other towns’ officials are making,” Majestic responded. “There are 17 towns here; only five make less money.”
The 2017 budget restores the supervisor’s salary to its 2015 level of $39,614, following a $2,000 reduction for 2016. The four Town Board members will also be paid at the 2015 level of $5,265 each, after a $1,000 apiece reduction this year. Town clerk/tax collector Michelle Mosher will be paid $54,912 in 2017, up from $53,315 in 2016; and highway superintendent Brian Stiscia will receive an increase from $55,034 in 2016 to $57,235 in 2017.
Angered by Noonan’s tirade, councilman David Dukler said, “These charges of mismanagement are hyperbolic and misleading.” He pointed out that the town board has been dealing with a backlog of neglected and costly infrastructure, including gradually replacing “a whole fleet” of aging highway department vehicles. Moreover, Dukler said, Ulster County is not assuming responsibility for replacing the unsafe bridge near Split Rock on Clove Road: “We’re looking at a bill of $450,000 for that.”
Other “big-ticket” items in the 2017 budget include two new part-time positions, according to Majestic: a backup bookkeeper, whom she described as a “safety net,” and an office assistant at the town highway garage. Both positions are for three hours per day, and pay no benefits. The cost of health insurance has gone up eight percent for town employees, she said, and 15 percent for retirees.
Former councilman Warren Wiegand noted that the town had been able to contain tax increases in the 2016 budget thanks to the recouping of $110,000 in back property taxes long contested by the attorneys and accounting firm of Robert DeNiro. No such one-time windfall was available for 2017, but the town board kept increases down by moving $64,000 from unexpended funds appropriated for 2016 into the General Fund and $18,000 into the Highway Fund, Wiegand said. “That’s not new taxpayer money,” observed councilman John Hinson. Majestic added that higher-than-anticipated mortgage tax income had also helped: “There were not many home sales, but there was a lot of refinancing activity.”
The final 2017 budget, representing a 1.37 increase in total expenditures, passed 3-1, as did the resolution to override the tax cap. Hinson cast the sole dissenting vote in both cases. Councilman Mike Reynolds was not present at the meeting.