Town property taxes in New Paltz are expected to go up more than five-and-a-half percent for 2023, although there is still some disagreement as to assessing blame for that fact. The expense of keeping salaries and benefits competitive continues to be the biggest part of ballooning costs, but in 2022 there have also been sharp increases in petroleum products such as gas and heating oil, in chemicals like chlorine and road salt, and in a variety of other lines. Hanging over all of that was the decision to have the village portion of sales taxes distributed directly to the village government for the first time anyone can remember; if and how that impacted this year’s budget decisions is solidly in the growing rift of disputed territory between members of these two boards.
What town residents should expect is a 5.63% increase in A fund taxes; this is the money that’s used to pay for services used by all residents of the town including the assessor, the youth program, and the courts. Services that only benefit town residents who don’t also live in the village, such as the building department, are relegated to the B fund — and there won’t be an increase to those taxes. While only 23% of the sales-tax pie is being redirected to the village, Supervisor Neil Bettez’s reading of state law is that the remaining part must be placed in B, instead of in A. On one hand, that means there’s money to hire another employee in the understaffed building department. On the other hand, Bettez sees this change as causing a one-time rejiggering of the budget that is resulting in a higher increase for the A fund. Without the tax allocation change, the supervisor believes that the increase could have been kept to about three percent in the A fund.
The next budget was passed after a public hearing was convened, as the law requires; the only person who testified was Alex Wojcik, deputy mayor for the village. Wojcik had been tapped to convey the displeasure of village trustees with how their sales-tax decision had been represented at the prior town council meeting. Looking over the town budget numbers, trustees believe that the figures are too conservative — and that this means taxes will be raised that might not have to be. Specifically, they point out that another $100,000 in sales tax revenue would still be a conservative number to use, based on past budgets and actual receipts.
Bettez doesn’t see the point in budgeting for more sales tax revenue, because no matter how much is received it will now be put into the B fund — where it’s not needed. These two funds must be separate, because they don’t come from the same taxpayers. To move from one to the other would amount to stealing, according to the advice Bettez has received about how state law is laid out. Rogers has pointed out that a different arrangement is in place in Saugerties, but Bettez is trusting in legal counsel rather than what other supervisors are up to.
A particular bone of contention for trustees has been Dan Torres’ suggesting that this amounted to the village budget being subsidized, in a way, through town-wide taxes. That line of thinking includes arguments such as pointing out that all town residents pay for police through the A fund, but most police activity happens in front of the row of bars on Main Street in the heart of the village. Mayor Tim Rogers has in the past called for some kind of special assessment to be used to ensure that those property owners are paying a fairer portion to compensate for the high level of police activity that’s generate through the sale of alcohol. There are strong differences of opinion in how to manage a town budget, and in Wojcik’s comments it was pointed out that town budget increases in excess of five percent have been the norm in recent years.
Rogers did seek to make comment during the brief discussion ahead of the vote, but Bettez pointed out that the mayor’s input was too late. “No, Tim, I’m not going to talk about this now that the hearing is closed,” the supervisor said. They’d been at a meeting together the day before without Rogers mentioning it, and “there’s no point arguing about it in public.” Rogers’ tendency to copy this reporter on emails about this topic has been a source of frustration for council members.
In addition to laying out increasing costs, Bettez explained why the decision was made to pull more than $700,000 from the fund balance rather than cutting town services. Residents who can’t afford vacations need recreation like the pool and youth program, and those facing increasing challenges in life could benefit from the community wellness work. While New Paltz isn’t a community facing a crime wave, “I’m not going to cut police while people are worried about one.”
While Wojcik is correct that resources are not being “extracted” from the community, council members adopted a budget that accounts for it being removed from the A fund, at least. Who will prove to be correct on whether that was necessary at all has yet to be revealed.