New Paltz Town Council members unanimously, albeit regretfully, approved a budget which will result in a six-and-two-thirds percent increase to property taxes, for a total 2020 tax levy of $7,374,492 out of an A-fund budget of $9,080,710. The A fund is the largest portion of the town budget, covering things which get paid for by all residents of the town. Other funds include B, which is for expenses entirely outside of the village line, and special districts including those for water and sewer services. Each fund must be accounted for separately.
The reasons cited for the increase are mostly similar to ones raised in the past: fixed costs such as health insurance and retirement continue to increase. According to supervisor Neil Bettez, health insurance is the sticking point that has forced the police contract into arbitration; town officials want union members kicking in more for their coverage. All other union contracts have been renegotiated in the past year with additional contributions baked in. With several four-year contracts now in place, Bettez anticipates being able to start multi-year budgeting, but David Brownstein warned that the practice will show that it’s “likely not to get a whole lot better” over that period.
There was also a request from the rescue squad to increase their contractual rate by $111,000 to address reduced volunteerism; that was negotiated down to $70,000 for this year.
Retirement costs went up $50,000 in 2019, health insurance cost the taxpayers $81,000 more, rent for the police station and town hall trailers was raised $15,000, and there’s an additional $118,000 in debt payments resulting from borrowing authorized by town voters for the acquisition of lands for the preservation of open space. Health insurance alone now costs $2.5 million annually, but Bettez said that this year’s increase of nearly four percent is the lowest price hike in five years.
At the same time, state aid continues to get cut. This year, it was money for roads that was slashed, Bettez said. Continuing talks to secure more of the sales tax generated in New Paltz for New Paltz are not likely to yield any results, the supervisor added, particularly since state legislators have put county officials on the hook to pony up some $44,000 should the new internet sales tax not make up for aid that those state legislators have cut.
Using a portion of the fund balance — money intentionally collected over and above anticipated expenses as a buffer against being forced to borrow in the case of emergencies — is not possible this year, because it’s now as low as it can be pursuant to town policy, at 10%. Advice from the state comptroller’s office is vague on this point: an appropriate level should be maintained for the fund balance, one that’s neither too high nor too low, but what that means depends on local circumstances. In New Paltz, the policy that’s been set establishes 10% as the floor for the fund balance. Bettez said that being unable to use it to reduce the tax levy is indicative of good budgeting for the present year. Last year $428,000 was spent in this manner.
Revenue was actually up 10% this year, largely due to fee increases, Bettez reported, but it’s not enough to stem to tide of increases, at least not this year.