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Orangetown Board Debates Executive Assistant Position, 2013 Budget

Thursday's special meeting of the Orangetown Board focused on the 2013 budgets for the Supervisor's office, Assessor and Fire Inspector.

Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart saved his own office for last among the public 2013 budget presentations to the town board over the last two weeks.

He presented his proposed budget for the office at a special town board meeting Thursday along with the Assessor's office and Fire Inspector.

Stewart suggested moving people around, including making his office's secretary part of shared services, to make room to expand the executive assistant's job currently filled by Suzanne Barclay from part-time to full-time with the idea of having that position focus on economic development in the town.

"My proposal is to take the secretary position, which is already partially in shared services, and allocate it that way officially in the budget," Stewart said. "The current position Suzanne Barclay is in as an executive assistant, but as someone to push economic development issues in town, not the least of which is Rockland Psych, and also coordinate trying to streamline the process for building applicants and be alert to the possibility of businesses moving into town.

"It feels like that would be a better use of taxpayer dollars than the current set-up."

Councilman Tom Diviny raised the issue of having to cover health benefits of making that position full time. Stewart said his goal was to make the move budget neutral, but that was not Diviny's only concern.

He pointed out that the Supervisor's office would come in at a five percent increase in budget over 2012. He also expressed concerns about Barclay keeping the rest of the town board better informed of her work with RPC and other projects.

"She's doing this, but we're being kept in the dark," Diviny said. "Why would I want to contribute to that? I don't feel it is necessary. To me, it is a political position. I'm not going to hire a full-time position. I think I've made it clear that I don't think it is right how things are working with RPC."

Councilman Paul Valentine said he liked the idea of focusing more on economic development than in the past. Councilman Denis Troy also said that Barclay should be sending more information to the rest of the town board.

Stewart said that he often does not hear from board members during the day, but would be willing to make sure more information goes to all of the board members. He pointed out that he is the only member of the council who works full-time for the town. 

"We could have a continuous flow," Stewart said. "We can do it differently. The supervisor's duty is to serve as administrator and to be one member of the board. I'm supposed to implement what the town board decides is the most important thing. 

"I don't think there is much you don't know about, but whatever it is you want to know more about, (you will)."

"Regarding RPC, I'd like to know everything that is going on," Diviny said. "It's only the biggest thing in town for the next 50 years."

Diviny said that the entire board, not just the supervisor, should appoint an employee focusing on RPC. 

"The board should be involved and have equal say in who that will be," Diviny said. "If that was the case, I'd say yes. To make it a supervisor appointment, I'd say no."

The position, which is currently appointed by the supervisor, has been part-time and full-time in the past. It was made full-time during Barclay's previous time in the job, then remained that way while Paul Whalen was Town Supervisor. Stewart, who had been elected but had not yet taken office, opposed the change at the time. 

The board will continue the public discussion of the 2013 budget during the workshop Sept. 18. Stewart's proposed budget must be turned into the town clerk's office by Sept. 24.

Stewart asked the other council members what they thought the next step should be. By all indications, there will have to be cuts made. At least some departments will be funded below where they are for 2012. 

"I'd like a shell of a budget, something you are proposing, but not your budget yet (for Tuesday). A draft for more concrete discussion," Troy said. "Here are the major decisions. To get it lower, you'd have to eliminate these six positions or get rid of this service."

Stewart said he would work on that and that the department heads are still getting him budget proposals with cuts by five percent from 2012. 

The other issue is the state-mandated tax cap. The town board would have to pass a resolution giving itself the ability to exceed the cap, which is a two percent increase with certain exceptions.

"You are giving yourselves the ability to override the cap," Stewart said. "You're not saying you are going to do it."

"Somewhere soon we have to vote if we can override the cap," Troy said. "I think we have to do that, even if we are going to come in under the cap."
Last November, , creating a scramble to get under the cap for 2012. A group of residents came to that meeting to loudly protest the possibility of going over the cap. 

"Last year, Tom (Diviny) was a saint and I was vilified," Troy said. "People got up screaming. It was absolutely crazy. They will come out again. As long as (the vote) is done on time, however you vote, that's all I ask."

Fire Inspector

Orangetown Fire Inspector Mike Bettmann said finding room to cut in his department's budget, which is relatively small, has been a challenge. 

Revenues for the department can fluctuate. They brought in $45,854 in 2010, then over $67,000 n 2011, mostly due to a large one-time inspection of Pfizer for $19,000.

"They are just now catching up to that," Bettmann said. "They are closing down. They are not as concerned as they used to be with 3,500 people and a seven-member fire department."

He projected revenues over $40,000 for 2012, which comes from fees and fines. 

The town board brought up the issue of raising the department's fees, which have not gone up since 1996. Bettmann said Orangetown's fees are currently below Ramapo's, but higher than Clarkstown's. 

"We could raise our fees across the board, but then people will see it as a tax," Bettmann said.

The town board instructed Bettmann to provide a budget with a 10 percent increase in fire inspection fees.

Assessor

Orangetown Assessor Brian Kenney asked for a stipend for a member of his staff who does work that is not part of her job description. His proposed budget for the department is $473,000, which is an increase from 2012 ($462,000), but well below the budget in 2008.

He said he is cutting funding in his department for office supplies, vehicle repairs, telephone service and the expenses incurred from appraisals related to tax challenges, though they are facing some large ones including Blue Hill Plaza.

Kenney also reminded the board of his own unique situation. The Orangetown Assessor is appointed for six year terms and is not a member of the CSEA. He said the town board passes a resolution in 2008 that included raises for positions outside the CSEA, but they have been left out of the town budget.

"I'm not saying this is a legal problem," Kenney said. "The resolution should be put to rest or implemented."

Kenney's six-year term is up in 2013, but he said he would like to continue in the position.

The presentation included another discussion of state mandates and the tax cap.

"I've had conversations with Senator (David) Carlucci the last few months about the lack of help from Albany," Troy said. "All everybody knows is the two percent cap that Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo (talks about). He can declare anything he wants, but we need help."

 

Terry September 18, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Mr Stewart is personal friends with his assisant...he should NOT be making her postion a full time one. I am against this...is the town board listening?????? he is cutting the budgets of other depts and taking that money and using it for a favor. This is so wrong, sneaky, everyone needs to start paying more attention to what ms. barclay is doing.
Harvey Cedars September 19, 2012 at 06:51 PM
I applaud Stewart for being up front about wanting to make the exec assistant a full time position. Compared to past Supervisors, it is my opinion Stewart is more tranparent and proactive. Yet, I don't agree that now is the right time to make the exec asst a full time spot. I do wonder if Diviny voiced his concerns about the lack of communication prior to this recent meeting.
Andy Stewart, Orangetown Supervisor September 29, 2012 at 10:38 PM
When people elect a new Town Supervisor, they expect him to have the same staff support as the guy they voted out of office, but to do a better job with these resources. The executive assistant position was full time for many years, and cut to half time as one of many desperate last-minute budgeting cutting moves after last year's election but before I took office. Some of these moves made sense, some cost the Town more than they saved, due to backlogs in Justice and Building Depts, and some subverted the new supervisor's ability to work for the people. Cutting the assistant position falls into this last category.

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