The Shandaken town board voted on October 2 to adopt a preliminary 2018 budget of $5,723,430, exceeding the state-imposed two percent tax cap for the second year in a row, after several years of minimal to no increase. Supervisor Rob Stanley said the expected tax hike of 7.4 percent comes from increases in retirement fund payments, health care, and salaries.
Because the minimum wage is scheduled to go up by 70 cents per hour in New York State as of January 1 — with annual rises until it reaches $15 by 2022 — the salaries of employees making under $10.40 per hour have to be raised. In fairness to those who have spent time working up to their current rates, other employees’ wages will also go up 40 to 50 cents. In addition, the calendar year includes an extra two-week pay period. Altogether, said Stanley, most salary lines will go up about 7 to 8 percent.
An office bookkeeper will add one day a week to her four-day-a-week schedule, and Stanley is adding $5000 to hire a part-time zoning officer, one day a week, to free up zoning officer Warren Tutt for more building inspections. The salaries of several elected officials will go up one percent, including town justices, town clerk, supervisor, and assessor chair, amounting to $500 to $1000 each.
More substantial increases come from a predicted 10 percent rise in contributions to retirement, totaling $15,000, and an almost 15 percent rise in health care costs, or $40,000.
The highway budget is awaiting reimbursements from FEMA for bridge repairs and from a state program for paving of town roads. As a precaution, the highway budget is reducing the use of the fund balance by $100,000, in case those monies have to be paid out before the reimbursements come in. The highway budget is therefore showing a tax increase of 10.8 percent, but Stanley said that amount may decrease over the next month before final passage.
Taxes for the Phoenicia Water District will go down by two percent because of a rise in billing, possibly due to increased tourism in the area. The fire districts are asking for increases of up to two percent. The Pine Hill Water District budget is still being calculated.
The board approved the preliminary budget, with Stanley, Faye Storms, Gael Alba, and Tim Malloy voting yes, while board member Peter DiScalfani voted no, with the comment, “I also think it’s too high,” echoing doubts expressed by Phoenicia resident and Democratic county legislator candidate Kathy Nolan during comments on resolutions.
“There’s a two percent tax cap,” said Nolan. “Some are these are fixed costs but I don’t think the town board should be going out ahead of that curve. Please scrutinize these increases again and look for places we can cut.”
Stanley reviewed the salary needs, since Nolan had missed the start of the meeting.
“I support increases for the lowest-paid workers,” replied Nolan. “But raises in the town clerk’s office, the supervisor — I know they are low for the amount of work people do, but it’s a squeeze for poorest people in town. People above minimum wage and having flexible hours are going up. Each one has to be justified.”
The supervisor said hours of all workers would be accounted for in a scheduled audit.
Regarding the highway department, Nolan said, “You claim grants are coming in to save us money, and it’s going up even higher than the town. We’ve had lighter and lighter winters, with less snow removal.”
“You said that last year,” retorted Stanley, “and then we had three blizzards after that.”
“People are coming to me asking why their taxes are going up,” said Nolan. “The county taxes aren’t going up, for the second year in a row.”
“The county has millions of dollars in their fund balance,” said Stanley. “Two percent is not sustainable for us.”
The town board will hold a public hearing on exceeding the tax cap on Monday, October 16, at 6:30 p.m., at the town hall, followed by a special board meeting at 7 p.m., to vote on allowing the town to exceed the tax cap.
A final budget public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, November 8, the day after Election Day, at 6:30 p.m., preceding the regular town board meeting at 7 p.m.
In other town board news
The planning board is considering a proposal to create a ropes course, to facilitate a challenging outdoor personal development and team building process, on several parcels along Route 28 in Big Indian. “This would create a unique commercial recreational activity and could be an economic stimulator for the hamlets of Big Indian and Oliverea as well as the rest of the town,” said Stanley. Although such activity is an allowable use on the residentially zoned parcels, the front portions of two lots are zoned to prohibit commercial recreation. The planning board recommends re-zoning to make the lots fully accessible to the proposed business. A public hearing on the proposed zoning changes will be held Monday, October 16, at 1 p.m., at the town hall.
Volunteers are sought to help install new playground equipment in the town parks. To volunteer, contact the town clerk at 845-688-5004 or Kevin Van Blarcum, a town board candidate who is heading up the installation effort, at 845-706-0473.