Even before New Paltz Town Supervisor Neil Bettez presented his preliminary 2020 budget, it was apparent that it was getting some resistance from town employees. Stacy Delarede, one of the town’s building inspectors, complained about cuts in her department while youth program staffers are slated to receive raises. The approach didn’t appear to sit well with the town supervisor.
Supervisor Bettez is offering a budget that would carry a 5.3% tax increase, much more than this year’s tax cap of just two percent, but lower than some of the increases he’s proposed in years past. Board members are planning to pass a law allowing them to override that cap, but also are seeking ways to find the $313,404 in savings needed to make it under the limit. The supervisor said that half the increase is in fixed costs, such as contractual raises, pension contributions and health insurance for employees, and that he’d made $207,000 in cuts before bringing it to his colleagues for their input. Moreover, “Unlike in previous years, we have no fund balance to appropriate,” he said, because policy now requires keeping 10% handy for a rainy day. The fund balance is the money left unspent last year, which represents the only emergency funds accessible for municipal needs outside of borrowing.
A longtime member of the building department, Helen Christie, is retiring, and Delarede has asked that Christie be replaced with a clerk for 30 hours a week. That’s $40,000 more per year than Bettez wants to spend; what he is suggesting is a 20-hour position which wouldn’t come with health benefits; he budgeted for the shorter hours.
Bettez took exception to Delarede calling out an increase he has budgeted in another department. He explained that lawn mowers cutting the grass at the youth center were contracted to receive a higher hourly rate than members of the center’s staff, “some of whom have master’s degrees,” and that he was “embarrassed about that” because he was asked if town youth employees could cut the grass on their off hours to make extra money. Right now they’re making less than $15 an hour, he added.
The budget in its present form also includes raises for elected officials, which would be the first since Bettez took office. Raises are typically not included in election-year budgets as they can become political talking points.