New Orangetown Director of Finance Jeff Bencik experienced car troubles Tuesday that he knew would make getting home a challenge even without the final steps of the 2013 budget planning process.
Residents packed into Orangetown Town Hall for the completion of a public hearing to discuss the budget, with the board hearing comments from residents for nearly two hours.
The council then addressed 35 separate adjustments to the budget, eventually approving enough to make $600,000 in last-minute changes, with $250,000 coming in the form of additional spending of the town's reserves.
Bencik estimated that the adjustments reduced the tax increase in the proposed 2013 Orangetown budget to approximately 4.9%. The town council voted unanimously to approve the $62.9 million budget.
Town board members pointed out that Orangetown actually cut spending by over $1 million from 2012 to 2013, with rising costs for medical and retirement benefits as the primary reason that residents' taxes will increase. Earlier this year, former Orangetown Director of Finance Charlie Richardson estimated that if the town made no cuts at all, taxes would have to go up 15%.
By way of comparison, Clarkstown approved a budget with a 6.2% tax increase last week.
The board members agreed that they would have liked to lower the increase more, but felt they had reached the best budget possible.
"We went through this budget with a fine toothcomb, line by line, and spent hours upon hours," Councilman Paul Valentine said. "When you start at 15 percent and Andy got it to nine on his initial and we end dup under five, that's tremendous. This town, we're cutting well over $1 million. Clarkstown is at 6 percent, but they're spending $6 more than they did last year. While it's not the best, it's the best we could possibly do with the cards that we were dealt."
"I do believe it's been the most diligent, most intense and painstaking process since June," Supervisor Andy Stewart said. "We've gotten to a point where I don't think anybody could have expected us to get."
Stewart expressed concerns for the long term, such as a lack of capital spending and the use of fund balance. Stewart was the lone no vote when the board approved an increase in the spending of reserves in 2013 from $1.5 million to $1.75 million.
"I don't believe it's a stable budget," Stewart said. "I believe it's more urgent."
Many residents turned out to support the libraries Blauvelt, Tappan, Orangeburg and Palisades. The town board had proposed cutting funding to those libraries by 20 percent, with the idea that they would make up the money by spending from their fund balances. The board ended up approving a 10 percent cut in the library budgets.
"I'm concerned about the size of the proposed cut to our budget," said Orangeburg Library Director William Langham. "It is a dramatic figure that cannot be implemented in a single year without dramatic cuts in library services."
Many residents opposed a tax increase of any amount, especially one that exceeds the state's two percent tax cap. The Orangetown Council had already voted to override the cap.
Carol Silverstein of Orangeburg and Michael Mandel of Pearl River questioned the transparency of parts of the budget process, including the recent promotion of Donald Butterworth from lieutenant to captain in the Orangetown Police Department, with Mandel citing his own law enforcement experience in saying that a second captain was not necessary. They both argued against the way the move was handled, with the board voting to approve it after an executive session later in a meeting Nov. 1.
"You came out of executive session at 10 p.m. and voted without regard to the public," Mandel said.
There were general comments about making information available to the public during the budget process, which Valentine disputed. He cited the availability of updated budgets at town board meetings and on the town's website.
"I am very disappointed that people said this wasn't a transparent process," Valentine said. "I don't know how you could get it more transparent unless Andy personally delivered the budgets to everybody's houses."
Valentine also said he was disappointed to see members of the public taking an adversarial approach to town employees, especially in light of their efforts during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath.
Councilman Denis Troy spoke of the mandates from the state and expenses pushed onto the town by Rockland County, citing rising pension and health benefit costs among other issues.
"We are in a bind, as Denis explains so well," Stewart said. "All in all, I think we got to a point we can be proud of the work we've done. It's not perfect, but it's really good."
There were points of contention among the council members, including the elimination of a position within the IT department, one that is currently vacant. Stewart argued for the second position to be a lower-paying assistant's job, but the board voted 3-2 to eliminate it entirely. Valentine was the other vote for the position.
"We are going to great lengths not to lay people off. This is another case where we can cut back through attrition because the position is open," Councilman Tom Morr said.
Among the adjustments made to the budget Tuesday:
- Increase building permit fee from $15 per 1,000 square feet to $17 per 1,000 square feet.
- Eliminate seasonal part-time employees in assessor's office, saving $3,000
- Lower part-time employee cost in town attorney's office from $12,000 to $7,000
- Reduce funding of town museum from $12,800 to $12,000
- Reduce funding for part-time employees in justice court from $51,000 to $36,000, covering only constables.
- A series of reductions in costs in Parks and Recreation to cover the reinstatement of two full-time groundskeepers to the budget.
- Adjust expected costs of Orangetown Police Department sick days from $120,000 to $100,000
- Adjust expected police salaries to project two retirements, removing $119,000 from police salaries line in the budget.
- Reinstate $100,000 in police overtime, bringing total to $1 million. It had been lowered earlier in the process from $1.2 million to $900,000. Orangetown Police Chief Kevin Nulty presented a plan to deal with the reduction to $900,000, but argued against implementing it.
- Reduce receiver of taxes office part-time funding by $5,000.
- Increase industrial user fees in the sewer department for a projected increase in revenue of $35,000.
- Reinstate $100,000 in Orangetown Highway Department overtime and reduce highway budget for repaving by $100,000.
Bencik stayed after the meeting to come up with a rough calculation of the budget and the projected tax increase with the changes from Tuesday’s meeting, though more exact numbers should be available later this week.
Editor's note: This article was initially posted Nov. 14, then updated Nov. 16 with the addition of a PDF file of the full town budget for 2013 attached.