Shandaken over the tax cap again

On October 1, the Shandaken town board approved a preliminary 2019 budget that will entail exceeding the state-imposed tax cap for the second year in a row, due primarily to salary increases and projected hikes in health care and retirement costs. The budget is slated to go up by $200,000, or 3.5 percent, to $5,920,605, with a 4.73 percent tax increase.

Still to come before final approval is a special meeting and public hearing at 1 p.m. Monday, October 15, on adopting a law to allow the town to exceed the tax cap. Then a public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 7, immediately preceding the next town board meeting. Final adoption of the budget will follow. Note that the meeting will take place the day after Election Day.

Supervisor Rob Stanley said most of the salary changes come from the state’s incremental minimum wage increase, which goes up by 70 cents per hour to $11.10 as of January 1, on the way to a statewide rate of $15 by 2022. A few elected officials — supervisor, town clerk, and assessor chair — will see an increase of about two percent, or $750 to $1000 per year. Retirement and health care costs are projected to rise 10 percent and almost five percent, respectively.

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The ambulance department is the source of the largest amount of salary increase, in hope of attracting professionals to the department by making the town competitive with higher-paying neighboring communities. An expense of up to $60,000 will be required to replace heart monitor equipment, which is outdated and will not be able to be serviced after next fall. Ambulance chief Brendan Whalen is researching leasing and other options to minimize the cost.

The Morton Library in Pine Hill is asking for a $20,000 increase. The Shandaken Historical Museum has requested more than the currently designated $6000 increase to make repairs to the building and add hours for the director, who has been responding to more inquiries of late.

The highway department is awaiting reimbursement from FEMA for repair projects, with payments delayed due to recent natural disasters. To ensure adequate highway funds, the town will reduce use of the fund balance by $25,000, requiring the shortfall to be made up by taxes. The department anticipates updating its aging fleet by replacing one truck per year.

The Phoenicia Water District budget will go up by $2100 due to personnel-related costs, but usage rates will not increase. The town’s three fire districts are requesting hikes of two to 2.63 percent. Lighting districts will remain unchanged, and the Pine Hill Water District is still reviewing budget needs.

In other business:

  • The town board voted unanimously to accept a compromise settlement on an assessment challenge by Kaatskill Development Holdings for the Emerson Inn property in Mount Pleasant. Stanley said the resulting reduction in the assessment is minimal and will save the town legal fees it would incur while going to litigation over the disagreement.
  • Ulster County legislator Kathy Nolan reported to the board that a committee of the legislature is considering bills that would require certification for electricians and contractors working within the county. She said she is not opposed to the electrician measure, while arguing to keep licensing fees as low as the lowest rates of neighboring counties with similar requirements.
  • The contractor bill is lingering in committee while members debate what services should be included under the term “contractor.” Nolan is waiting to see the specifics that emerge before taking a stand on the proposal. Licensing is being considered in response to complaints that some contractors have failed to complete jobs after being paid.

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