The Woodstock Town Board adopted its 2023 budget with a modest raise for senior recreation instructors and some funding for committee projects, but rejected a counterproposal that was more generous for seniors and committees at the expense of town employees.
The board voted 3-2 to accept Supervisor Bill McKenna’s changes to the preliminary budget that increased revenue projections by $11,000 and added $8000 to the Town Board budget for committee projects and $3000 to the senior recreation budget for pay raises. Council members Bennet Ratcliff and Maria-Elena Conte voted against the budget.
Senior Rec teachers were disappointed in what amounted to a $4-per-class raise.
Ratcliff’s rejected proposal was far more generous, projecting an $111,700 increase in revenue and adding $20,500 to the senior recreation budget and $31,175 to fund expenses for the town court, Planning Board, Environmental Commission, Commission for Civic Design, Comeau Sewardship Committee, Tree Committee, Woodstock Chamber of Arts & Commerce, Housing Committee, Human Rights Commission and Complete Streets Committee.
Ratcliff’s rejected revenue increases combined with $65,593 in proposed spending cuts would have meant a net savings, but at the expense of raises for the Town Clerk’s office, Supervisor’s office and town court.
“We have done nothing but save money for this town. You have no idea what I’ve done for this town. How dare you,” Town Clerk Jackie Earley said at a November 1 meeting when Ratcliff first proposed his changes.
Senior Recreation Committee Chair Edwina Henderson submitted a more modest proposal to pay for raises ranging from $10 to $15 per class with an increase in fees charged to participants. Residents now pay $1 per class and non-residents pay $2.
“Several people actually approached me who participate saying, why don’t we pay more? Again, we’re talking about $1 to $2. And perhaps $5 for out-of-town people,” Henderson said at the November 14 meeting.
She said that could increase revenue from $7500 to around $15,000.
“So we are getting a bit of a step up in participation I’ve noticed over the last month or so. So I think you could probably project even more than $15,000 in revenue if you did raise the rates,’ she said.
“One of the things that we’ll be looking at, as we approach the new year, is the senior rec program. We will take a hard look at the classes that are being utilized and those that are being underutilized, and we will look at ways to make the program even better,” McKenna said.
“I will say that the senior rec program that Woodstock offers is totally unique. It’s the only one I believe in the county — no other town pays anything for teachers. So we continue to strive to make that better.”
After the budget passed, one instructor asked if she could ask questions.
“No. It’s done,” Ratcliff said. “You get nothing.”
Council member Laura Ricci, over moans in the audience and one saying “unbelievable,” defended the budget.
“We’re moving forward in some ways. The $8,000 for the volunteer boards, I believe is a move forward,” she said. “I believe we should look into the senior rec. We should see more about the ideas that have been brought forward that can increase what people get paid. Maybe have a cap for a month if somebody goes to a lot of classes. But there’s a lot of progress that can be made. So the fact that we’re not making it right now doesn’t mean that it can’t be made in the future.”
McKenna said he is still open to raising the fees for pay increases and to offset the program costs and it would not require amending the budget.
Senior Recreation program instructors pleaded for pay increases as participants packed a Woodstock Town Board budget hearing November 10 and again November 14 to show support — though many walked away disappointed in the offer for a modest raise.
“It’s a labor of love, but appreciation doesn’t pay the bills,” said Inyo Charbonneau, a dance instructor, who like many, hasn’t had a pay raise in 15 years. “We don’t just teach the hour. We plan. I buy music. We are there early. We stay a little late and that’s how it works,” she said.
“It’s wonderful. She does a great job. We all love her. We love the class and we’re all very loyal,” said Sandy Gardner, who has attended Charbonneau’s class for about 20 years. “I know that all the instructors really work hard for the seniors and to give us their best. And you’re saying you haven’t had a raise for 15 years? I mean, who hasn’t had a raise in 15 years? That’s really unbelievable…If we want to keep these great people working for us, we need to pay them what they’re worth.”
McKenna is amendable to paying instructors for the time it takes to set up the class and for other administrative tasks.
“I do believe people should be fairly paid. If someone is putting in an hour and a half, they should be fairly paid,”
McKenna clarified that he does not expect a meticulous accounting of the hours worked in order for instructors to get paid for the time commitment.
After the November 14 budget approval, Ratcliff, in an email to various supporters, planning board and committee members, expressed disappointment.
“Last night was not the outcome we wanted — an almost $10 million town budget but none of our priorities included. The board and committee work of so many volunteers was ignored. The senior recreation teachers were offered crumbs while three elected officials voted themselves and their cronies more pay raises,” he said.
McKenna said this is the most drawn-out budget process under his tenure.
“I wish it didn’t get so political,” he said.
The Senior Recreation program requested an $11,500 increase in the town’s 2023 budget, from $42,500 to $54,000, that would have covered a $15-per-class raise for instructors who have taught for 10 years or more and $10 per class for the others. Town board member Bennet Ratcliff has proposed a $20,500 increase and advocates for a $25-per-class raise for all instructors.
Instructors make between $50 and $75 per class now. Classes offered for seniors and held in the Mescal Hornbeck Community Center, include a writing workshop, drama, dance, Yoga, painting, body sculpting, Bridge and more.
Supervisor Bill McKenna’s proposed $9.87 million budget calls for a 3.69 percent tax levy increase, just below the state’s tax cap for 2023. Not included are fire and library districts because they are their own taxing entities with separate governing entities.
Disclosure: The reporter, Nick Henderson, is the son of Edwina Henderson, who chairs the Senior Recreation Committee.