They’ve come a long way, baby: Remember how, less than a month ago, we reported that the first draft of the Town of Gardiner’s 2023 budget would’ve required a 7.6 percent tax increase? And how, a week later, the Town Board voted to override the New York State tax cap, girding its loins to pass a budget that would exceed a two-percent increase?
Well, guess what: At its November 1 meeting, the Town Board unveiled the final version of the 2023 budget, opened and closed the required public hearing without any feedback and proceeded to adopt it. And the final tab? Not only was there no tax increase, but most Gardiner residents will see a 4.5 percent decrease in local property taxes. “Since 2007, this is by far the largest we’ve done,” said councilman Warren Wiegand.
There will be some variation in the tax levy, of course depending on where you live: inside or outside the downtown hamlet’s sewer and light districts, or within the Gardiner or Shawangunk Valley fire district. And school districts (Gardinerites live in either New Paltz’s or Wallkill’s) have their own budgets, which take a much bigger tax bite. But when it comes to the level of municipal government, Gardiner residents will see a little tax relief next year.
Supervisor Marybeth Majestic noted that this would be “the third year in a row” of tax decreases for Town residents, crediting consistently sound fiscal management for this track record. But other factors also made a significant contribution this year to the Town’s ability to keep the budget under control. One was an influx of $576,486.71 in federal pandemic relief funding under the American Rescue Plan Act, of which only $84,941 have been spent in 2022.
The other big fix to what started out as an onerous budget was the existence of a “substantial” unexpended fund balance that has amassed over many years of pursestring-tightening. For the 2023 budget, the amount being transferred out of unexpended to offset taxes is being tripled: $300,000 to the General Fund, as compared to $102,500 for 2022, and $$75,000 to the Highway Fund, compared to $25,000.
The New York State Comptroller’s Office recommends that municipalities set aside 10 to 15 percent of their total budget in a reserve fund for emergencies. Councilwoman Laura Walls quoted the Town bookkeeper as saying that there is an unreserved, unallocated balance of about $1.4 million, or about 86 percent of the $1.7 million General Fund allocation for 2023. “It’s really important that we give some of this money back to the taxpayers,” Walls said.
The “tradition” of carrying an unexpended fund balance that is far higher than required dates back so far in Gardiner history that no one currently serving seems to remember exactly how or under whose administration it got started. Walls, who served as supervisor from 2000 to 2002, recalled in the meeting that the unexpended fund balance was “131 percent of the total budget” back when she took office, and later told HV1, “Leroy Carlson was supervisor before me. The fund balance was an issue in the campaign.”
At the meeting, Wiegand quoted Joe Katz, who served as supervisor from 2007 to 2011, as having said that “the unexpended numbers were very, very high” during that period as well, adding, “Maybe we’ve done too good a job with the financial management.”
While frugal in some areas, the 2023 budget that was passed does include salary increases for all municipal employees. Stepped raises for unionized workers, such as in the Highway Department, are established by periodic contract negotiations. Non-unionized workers will receive 6.5 percent increases next year if they are part-time, five percent if they are full-time. These increases will also apply to elected officials. Two former part-time positions, the assessor’s fieldworker and the Highway Department clerk, will become full-time in 2023.
To view the full 2023 Gardiner Town budget, visit www.townofgardiner.org/adopted-budgets and click on the link labeled 10/27/22: 2023 Preliminary Budget version #3.