Ulster town board will try not to break tax cap

The Town of Ulster released its tentative budget for 2019, with its $11.8 million total representing a 4.4 percent increase over the 2018 spending plan. The proposed tax levy of $8.6 million would come with a 4.2 percent tax levy increase. In its current state, passing the budget would require overriding the tax cap, a process town officials are preparing for even as they hope to avoid it.

A brief presentation of the tentative budget at Oct. 4’s meeting included talk about enacting a law overriding the tax cap, and how doing so might speed up the process by which municipal laws evolve.

“The budget as it is currently constructed does not meet the tax cap, and in order to avoid having a problem at the end of the process if we are unable to make changes that bring us into compliance with the tax cap, I am going to propose that the town take and start the process for the adoption of a local law in relation to the override of the tax cap for 2019,” said Supervisor James Quigley III.

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Quigley explained that each January during the town’s reorganizational meeting, town officials establish a process for introducing a law, one which includes the scheduling and holding of a public hearing. Under the standard policy, a law can take anywhere from 60 to 90 days from introduction to resolution. But with budgets due to be adopted and submitted to Ulster County by Nov. 20, the standard policy may not apply.

“We do not have the luxury of time in this matter,” Quigley said.

But preparing to introduce a law overriding the tax cap and actually doing so are two different things. “This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to exceed the tax cap,” said Councilman Eric Kitchen, who like other councilmen expressed hope that there was still room to further trim the budget. “Myself and Councilman [Rocco] Secreto have started meeting with department heads to go over their budgets.”

Quigley added that the discussion about overriding the tax cap was a necessity, whether or not it becomes a certainty.

“The town will work diligently to achieve a budget that does not exceed the tax cap,” he said. “But should we not be able to, the law will be in a position that the town board could adopt it if necessary prior to the adoption of the budget. This is purely belts and suspenders and is anticipatory of a problem.”

In its current state, the tentative budget’s tax levy is less than $9,000 over the tax cap. The town will hold a public hearing on the tax levy along with a budget workshop at Thursday, Oct. 18’s meeting. Two further meetings will be held on Nov. 1 and 15, and, Quigley said, additional budget workshops are also a possibility.

Among the increases in the 2019 tentative budget are wages in the Town of Ulster Police Department, up 8.7 percent to $1.95 million. The police department’s budget in the tentative spending plan is $8.7 million, an increase of around 5 percent. 

Benefits costs for town employees are set at $3.7 million in the spending plan, an increase of 5.6 percent over the 2018 budget. 

Other increases in spending include everything from road salt (up 16.7 percent to $70,000 after a particularly rough winter) to pollution insurance ($205,000, an increase of 10.8 percent).

But there are also areas where spending is going down, as in the overall budget for wages in the highway department, set at around $437,000 in the tentative budget, a decrease of 0.6 percent. And salaries for town officials would remain static in the tentative budget, set at $75,000 for the highway superintendent; $50,938 for the town clerk; $44,000 for the supervisor; and $10,000 each for the four town councilmen.

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