The Saugerties Town Board has approved a budget for 2020 that will increase spending by 3.06 percent, a total of $393,322, from this year’s $13.2 million dollar plan.
According to town accountant Gary Newkirk, village property owners’ town tax rate will drop to $4.8309 per $1,000 of assessed property value from this year’s $4.8631. Rates will go up for town residents for the general, highway and ambulance service portion of the budget from 2019’s $7.1286 per $1,000 to $7.1723.
The 2020 town-wide tax levy is $7,020,873, up $137,184 from this year’s $6,883,689. The 2020 general town outside village levy is $400,092, up $50,228 from this year’s $349,864. The 2020 highway levy is $3,142,888, up $151,252 from this year’s $2,991,636.
The budget passed 4-1 at the Nov. 20 town board meeting. Outgoing Councilman Mike MacIsaac was the dissenter. “Whenever there was an email for a request of cost increase, I would reply with, ‘Where are we going to have a corresponding decrease’ and I didn’t get a reply,” explained MacIsaac before casting what he called an ‘opposition vote.’ “I think we could have tried harder to decrease the budget in areas, too.”
MacIsaac elaborated in an interview on Friday. “I would say, without pointing fingers exactly, there are two large departments in the town, the two largest, and my point of view is that if we really did want to lower taxes we would cut the largest two departments and, not firing anybody, but through attrition. The town board still moves forward, you know what I mean,” he said, citing his push along with Councilman Paul Andreassen in August of last year to eliminate a K-9 sergeant position when a police officer retired. “Just tell the department heads they need to start with 98 percent instead of 100 percent.”
Town Supervisor Fred Costello Jr. said that he was proud that he and his board “[held] the line in certain areas” and “stayed comfortably below the tax cap.” He added that that he and MacIsaac would have to “agree to disagree.”
“I haven’t seen any specific proposals for decreases [from MacIsaac],” said Costello, noting that MacIsaac had agreed with or advocated for many of this year’s budgetary increases. “I would love to see decreases, too. It’s different for a resident to complain, but he’s had access to the process. If he had things that he thought should be different … he had equal access to this budget as everyone.”
Among other budgetary increases, town board members received a small raise of $250 per year, and all other town-level elected officials received a $100 yearly increase. Costello said this was for the sake of “keeping the pace.”
“Generally, Saugerties elected officials are at the medium to bottom of the scale of what elected officials earn throughout the county,” he said. “We’re trying to keep pace. I feel a better way than not to give anyone any raises for a number of years and then try to catch up all at once … Large salary increases are not generally well received by the public. When you’re trying to add a percentage that’s significant to any line that’s generally unwelcome. We’ve done that in years past. Other areas of elected officials, for whatever reason, did not add money to those salaries.”
Costello said employees’ health insurance costs had increased by approximately 15 percent this year and that salaries across the board for town employees increased by 2 percent. The town’s fund balance is currently at approximately $750,000, Costello said.