Many speaking about the preliminary 2018 town budget at November 1’s town board meeting said the spending plan was too rich for the Saugerties’ blood.
After a recent story published by Saugerties Times reported a proposed raise for Police Chief Joe Sinagra that would bring his salary from $85,000 a year to $100,000, a series of local taxpayers bemoaned the steady increase of local property tax rates over recent years.
“I’ve been watching my taxes go up every year — I have a chart. It just doesn’t stop. I’m 68 years old, and I’m not retired yet because of these expenses that keep coming up. … I’m here to remind the board that they’re here to serve the people … you have to consider the population more than a few people,” said resident Robert Moralis at the meeting. “We’re getting tired of always increasing, increasing, increasing … We need for this town to grow. I don’t think there’s any good reason for the town to award these raises.”
The 2018 preliminary Town of Saugerties budget sets general town wide spending at $8,638,392, general town outside village spending at $632,087 and highway spending at $3,342,263. It calls for a tax levy of $6,783,392, up $77,293 from this year’s $6,706,099. If the budget were adopted without amendment, the tax rate for town property owners would be $7.2470 per $1,000 of assessed property value, up 0.9 percent from this year’s $7.2294. Village property owners would pay $4.9603 per $1,000 of assessed property value, down 0.2 percent from 2017’s $4.9833.
“Two years ago I stood at this microphone and brought to the attention of the board that I felt it was unnecessary at the time [to work] out all these raises prior to the budget, doing contract negotiations,” said George Heidcamp, chairman of the Saugerties Conservative Party. “I felt it was irresponsible, I thought it wasn’t fair to the taxpayers that you handed out all these raises and then you later turned around and raised property tax[es] … Here we are, two years [later], and right back to square one in the exact same situation, only this time it’s a little bit worse … being a former leader of the police department, I understand negotiations and I understand benefits and I understand raises. I’m a true believer that employees do deserve raises in certain circumstances. I’m just having a little bit of a hard time comprehending the proposal of this 2018 budget by this board.”
Heidcamp questioned whether or not these tax increases, and particularly the proposed raises, were a responsible choice considering the state Comptroller’s Office 2016 designation of Saugerties as “susceptible to [fiscal] stress” and the small reserve of money left in the town’s fund balance.
“What gets me is that the amount of money that’s in the fund balance is somewhere a little over $100,000, which you should all know is peanuts. What I’m really concerned with is the magnitude of the raises in this budget that this board is going to hand out, knowing that the town of Saugerties is on shaky ground financially. When you award these raises, you’re obligating us to pay these raises. To me, that’s irresponsible government. … God forbid if we have a disaster in this town in this next year – a tornado, a fire, whatever – somebody’s going to have to pay for it.”
Heidcamp also warned the board that, should they award these raises, unions will use the board’s decision to justify future raises in the arbitration process.
“Two years ago, you guys said that you would only raise taxes if you ‘absolutely had to’ [and said that you were] going to try not to,” said Suzanne Van Wagener. “We all knew that you would ‘absolutely have to’ and so taxes went up … I just happened to be on the internet today on Trulia or Zillow or one of those things, and there were 23 houses in Lake Katrine [for sale]. Saugerties had over 200 … people are bailing out because it’s just getting to be too much.”
Supervisor Greg Helsmoortel did not return a phone call seeking comment. Town Councilman and Supervisor-Elect Fred Costello Jr. defended the budget on Tuesday night. “The entire board has worked really hard the entire year to stay within the budget of our tax cap,” he said. “There’s no such thing a as a perfect budget.”
“Two years ago, the comptroller designated this town as being susceptible to stress, and nothing was done about it at that time,” said Gaetana Ciarlante. “Here we are again, in the same situation, and I’m really shocked to hear we only have 100,000 dollars in the reserve. My God — what are you thinking?”
An electronic copy of the budget is available on the town website at http://saugerties.ny.us/content/Generic/View/123. A physical copy of the 185-page document can also be provided by Town Hall. The board may vote on the budget as soon as their next meeting, scheduled Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. at Frank Greco Senior Center, 207 Market St.