Orangetown Councilman Tom Diviny voted along with Councilman Michael Maturo and Supervisor Paul Whalen to defeat a local law allowing the board to exceed 2% tax on the 2012 budget Nov. 9.
He insisted that the board had to get the tax levy increase below the cap, then offered an amendment to the Supervisor's Preliminary Budget that did just that.
The Orangetown Board voted 4-1 to adopt the 2012 budget with Diviny's proposed amendment. The $64.4 million budget includes a 1.97% tax levy increase.
"I did it because if we don't vote against it the first time out, I think you are just throwing your hands up and saying you will never be able to get under this," Diviny said. "The people in this town can't afford a seven and a half percent tax increase. They can't. You might want to say next year it's going to be difficult. Yes.
"I got us down a million (in budget cuts) in the last 10 days. This year, we might have to start eight months out to do that, but the people I talked to think it is a good idea. Maybe some people don't, but I think we made the right decision."
"I didn't think he could make two percent," Councilman Denis Troy said. "I give him credit. I think we, almost entirely as a board, worked on this thing, with the department heads, to get it down to the two percent. I still think we've got big challenges next year because the fund balance is now lower. Somehow we have to bring in some revenue next year."
The board needed to either make up for approximately $2.5 million to get the budget under the tax cap. Diviny's amendment included budget cuts and additional revenues that reduced the property taxes for the town by $968,908. The board also approved an additional $1.5 million from the town's fund balance, raising the total used this year to $2.5 million. That leaves the town with approximately $10.2 million in its reserves.
The primary complication was a tax settlement with Pfizer that accounted for approximately $2.1 million against the cap for 2012. That issue will continue in upcoming years.
"I would not be doing my job if I didn't tell the town board that down the road we are going to have significant problems staying within the tax cap," said Orangetown Director of Finance Charlie Richardson. "We're going to be struggling for the foreseeable future because of Pfizer."
Among the cuts was the decision to make the Supervisor's executive assistant a half-time position for a savings of $34,481 in salary as well as benefits. Andy Stewart, who will take over as supervisor in January, expressed his concerns about that move after it was brought up at Monday's special town board meeting.
Councilwoman Nancy Low-Hogan, who will be moving on to the District 17 seat on the Rockland County Legislature in January, voted against the amendment and the adoption of the budget because she disagreed with this one item.
"I don't agree with taking the executive assistant and turning it into a half-time position," Low-Hogan said. "I think that is short-sighted for the town. I think a supervisor who is as busy as supervisors are and as actively engaged as they need to be in terms of the challenges facing our town, whether it be RPC or increasing economic development, needs a strong executive assistant.
"I think it is difficult to find a CEO of an operation like the Town of Orangetown that does not have a strong right hand. I think organizationally, this is a big mistake for $34,000 and we are really hurting the town."
Troy countered by pointing out that Low-Hogan did not take part in a conference call on the budget Friday or in Monday's special town board meeting.
"I'm sure you have good reasons, but for you to come in here and vote against this budget at two percent because of the half-time and point...I think it's short-sighted to vote against the budget because of this one item," Troy said. "This is what keeps the town going. I think it's ludicrous. Hopefully, you do a better job in the legislature."
Troy was also critical of Whalen for voting against the override last week.
"It remains to be seen if this will work in the long run." Troy said. "I agree with Nancy that we should have overrode the cap. For the supervisor to vote against the cap was irresponsible because it was your own budget. If you had gotten it down under 7.5 percent (earlier), you would still be supervisor."
"That may be true," Whalen conceded.
Whalen went on to say that he had considered a 4.5 percent increase due to Pfizer, but changed his mind after more thought.
"Future boards are going to have to be charged with the idea of making substantial cuts in services," Whalen said.
Troy also added an amendment to Diviny's proposal during the meeting, the elimination of community funding, the budget for which had fallen below $40,000 in 2011. That amendment passed, 3-1 with Low-Hogan abstaining and Councilman Michael Maturo voting no.
"A lot of hard sacrifices have to be made," Troy said.
Among the other changes in Diviny's amendment were:
- Elimination of funding for Shade Tree Committee, saving $20,000
- Eliminate purchase of a backhoe for Parks and Recreation Dept., saving $78,000.
- Highway Department Drop-Off Center will be open three days a week, but only alternating Saturdays, saving $32,385 in overtime.
- Increase inspection fees, adding $47,000 in revenue
- Eliminate purchase of two police cars, as well as cuts in ammunition, uniforms and travel for Orangetown Police Department
- Reduction of conferences for Orangetown Police by $15,000
- Reduction of $50,000 in sewer maintenance and $100,000 in sewer connections
- Not filling laborer position in Department of Environmental Management and Engineering, saving $48,980.
- Reduce capital outlay for DEME by $25,000
- Not filling vacant clerk typist position in Building, Zoning, Planning, Administration and Enforcement Department, saving $39,457.
- Charge school districts 0.125% of taxes collected as service fee, raising $200,000 in revenue.
Pearl River School District Director of Operations Quinton Van Wynen said Tuesday night that his understanding of how that charge would work had changed after further investigation during the day. Though the taxpayers would still be paying for the service through their school tax bills, it would not count against the tax cap for the individual school districts.
"This budget avoids a lot of cuts," Maturo said. "It's been a very hard week. I know personally and for other members of the board. We've asked for a lot of cuts from all departments and they have come through. They gave a lot of options that we avoided so we can maintain a reasonable level of services without breaking the bank."
Editor's Note: The additional revenue from the Orangetown Highway Department will be from increased inspection fees. The drop-off center will still be free.