Early in Tuesday night's discussion of Orangetown's budget for 2012-2013, Councilman Tom Diviny offered a reminder of what the town is facing.
"I got a memo from (former Orangetown Director of Finance) Charlie Richardson telling me we're looking at a 15% property tax (increase) right now," Diviny said. "This board has to decide on priorities. I don't know if this is one of them. I'm going to say that to every department."
The town council heard from representatives of the Finance Department, Information Technology (IT), Receiver of Taxes and Town Clerk Tuesday in the first of a series of . The tentative budget must be in to the town clerk's office by Sept. 24.
The Orangetown Police Department budget had been on the agenda for Tuesday night, but Chief Kevin Nulty had a funeral to attend. It was tentatively rescheduled for the special board meeting 7 p.m. Thursday along with the Highway Department, Parks and Recreation and Museum, but that could change. Supervisor Andy Stewart said the special session scheduled for Saturday morning could still be cancelled, in part because the full board cannot e present.
"My goal is to get as much information on the table as possible," Orangetown Stewart said. "The town is confronting a difficult situation, where costs are climbing even as we contain expenses. Pensions and healthcare and union contracts and cost-shifting from the county, every single one of those things costs us a point or two as far as the potential tax levy."
Diviny's comment followed the presentation of the IT department's suggested budget, which included the hiring of a full-time person to fill a position that has been open. That would also allow the department to stop using an outside consultant. Overall the proposal would be less than the department's 2012 budget.
The proposal includes a promotion for Anthony Bevelacqua and the addition of an assistant, eliminating the need for a consultant that costs $30,000 per year.
"The department has been working a man down for nearly a year," Stewart said.
"Do we need to hire an additional person?" Diviny asked. "Anthony did a great job and he's worth the raise, but does he really need help?"
Orangetown Supervisor of Fiscal Services Ann Maestri said that having one full-time person is a concern when things need to be done during the day as well as off hours.
"A lot can be done after hours, but we need somebody here in the day," Maestri said. "There are things we're not doing here. We're not doing the preventative maintenance. We're not doing the updates on the website. There are a lot of areas we could be touching that we're not improving."
The department will be training town employees as they change to a newer operating system and office software.
"Everybody who touches a computer," Bevelacqua said. "The biggest hurdle is just the look of it. It's a different look.
"The overall budget will be less with an assistant and spending less on consultants," Stewart said. "It's a moderate decrease. There is no way any one department can make up in cost savings what the town needs covered."
With the town's search for a new finance director, Maestro spoke for that department as well. She said the budget request includes slight salary increases and keeping the finance director's position in the same salary range where Richardson had been. Stewart said the town is midway through interviewing seven current candidates for the position, with the rest to be done over the next week and a half.
"At that point, we'll have something a little more definitive to say," Stewart said.
Receiver of Taxes
The town council members sat in their usual places at the front of the room, which place them above the table where the department heads sat to make their presentations.
"I feel like I'm appearing before a senate committee," Orangetown Receiver of Taxes Bob Simon joked.
Simon knew it was just the beginning of questions he would be getting with Orangetown's tax bills going out, which normally creates an influx of calls. Aside from the discussion of his department's budget, the town council asked Simon about this year's bill.
One item that is new is the charge by the town for the collection of school taxes, which is 1/8 of one percent. This was voted in for the first time last December. State law allows municipalities to charge up to 1 percent for the service. It had not been clear if it would appear as part of the school taxes or as a separate item.
"We may get calls on that," Simon said.
Simon added that residents looking for more information about their bills can find it through the town website under the receiver of taxes page and under the option to see and pay school/property taxes.
Simon said that and collecting on penalties could bring in over $500,000. Simon is projecting a budget below the 2012 numbers for his department. One cost-cutting measure he suggested is cutting from using two newspapers to one for advertising related to taxes.
Orangetown Town Attorney John Edwards pointed out that from his perspective, his department is down a person and a half right now. He is asking for a raise of approximately $1,100 (two percent) for the deputies in the department.
Councilman Tom Moor asked Town Clerk Charlotte Madigan about stipends for her department, which she said were in place due to the need to be available at all hours for issues such as death certificates.
The only increases among the permanent staff in the town clerk's office would be built in step increases in their contracts.
"We're a busy office," Madigan said.