New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez explained during the discussion of the 2019 budget at the October 18 Town Board meeting that the only way the increase will be within the tax cap would be with layoffs. Otherwise, contracted pay raises and health-insurance cost hikes together eat up more than the cap, which this year is actually two percent.
The tentative budget, filed September 30, shows expenses of $11,872,921, of which $9,898,272 would be raised through taxes. The tax levy of the approved 2018 budget is $8,348,108.
Cuts identified by Bettez and comptroller Jean Gallucci bring the increase down to 8.9% from the 17.5% in the “wish-list” round. The tax cap would limit increases to $176,000, which Gallucci called “impossible,” as fixed expenses alone will rise $234,000. That includes $40,000 for workers’ compensation and $67,000 in police pay increases agreed to in a past multi-year contract which current council members are bound to honor.
Requests for more spending came both during public comment and the meeting proper. At this point it looks like there may be room in the spending plan for a van for the youth program, but the days of formal support for the New Paltz Child Care Center seem numbered. That’s despite former Town Board member Kitty Brown’s public statement that spending money on that venture rather than to grant tax breaks to Wildberry Lodge would be her preference.
Bettez and Gallucci differ on how much to spend on the child care center, which is housed in a town-owned building on land leased from the school district. While they both agree that the next lease must be for many years and shift building maintenance costs onto the day care books, Gallucci wants to cut off any additional repair costs, while Bettez has decided that $10,000 to address issues of code violation is only fair. A longer lease would, in Bettez’s view, make it easier to find private investment by dispelling the fear of pending eviction.
Why a youth van might be possible is that it could actually save tax money; for larger trips vans are rented, and leasing one would be more cost effective in the eyes of Gallucci. Youth director Jim Tinger said it wouldn’t be needed more than perhaps 50 days a year, and could be available for other purposes on other days.
It’s not clear if Tinger’s other request, to give raises to his staff members, will be heeded. Council members appeared sympathetic to the fact that these town employees are not in any union, and apparently do not choose to negotiate new contracts individually. Tinger discussed the importance of being able to retain staff members, and how often he’s been told, “I’m sorry, I can’t stay,” because of the rate of pay.
Board member Marty Irwin declared that he wanted to see more cuts to the budget, and used some extreme examples: demolish the day care center rather than fund it at all, he suggested, and cut the $30,000 annual contribution to Family of New Paltz in half. In Irwin’s view, constituents who have seen taxes rise 30% in recent years demand such measures.
Police overtime must be reined in, Bettez said: it’s typical for that line to be exceeded each year, with money pulled from contingency funds to cover it. The supervisor said that for 2019 it will be a hard cap based on previous years, and that the police chief should “use it wisely.” If any is needed beyond that level, “let them come to us” to request it, Bettez said.
In the past, recurring requests to make the 35-hour recreation director position full time caused arguments at the table, but this year it was clear that there’s just no money for that change. A $45,000 highway truck has also been taken off the table. There’s enough money raised in the past to fund one more fireworks show near the Fourth of July, but Bettez wants the job of planning it off his assistant’s desk once and for all by finding a “creative solution” to its running. Needed maintenance on the courthouse will be curtailed to urgent items like the roof and front steps.
The Town Board will hold a public hearing on the preliminary budget on Thursday, November 1 at 7 p.m. ++