During Tuesday's Orangetown town board workshop meeting at town hall, Supervisor Andy Stewart presented the members of the town board with a packet including possible areas to make cuts in the 2013 budget.
He was careful to point out that the information he presented was preliminary The supervisor's proposed budget will not be available until late Monday, Sept. 24, the day it is due to the town clerk's office. Nov. 20, 2012 is the legal deadline for the town board to adopt its 2013 budget.
"Just treat this as a working document," Stewart said, "It is not in any sense final."
The members of the town council are careful about this in part because of the strong reaction by the public to some of the budget information that has already been made public, though no actual firm proposals have been made yet.
Stewart said the board has to weigh the importance of protecting services and infrastructure while attempting to keep tax increases as low as possible. He asked all department heads to turn in one proposed budget with no increase from 2012 and another with a five percent decrease.
"That gave us a menu of options," Stewart said. "I have to say, the smaller departments can't do a lot usually. You can only cut supplies so much. Then it becomes staff. The larger departments stepped up to the plate. It's no fun to take a knife to your own department, but that's essentially what people have done (in the proposals with a reduced budget)."
Stewart pointed out that the town must also adjust for additional costs from the county, such as elections and tuition.
The board engaged in relatively little discussion of budget options Tuesday. Councilman Tom Diviny said he wanted to see all of the memos from the department heads and the board members said they needed time to look over the information Stewart gave them, which they got just before the meeting.
"We're between a rock and a hard place," Orangetown Councilman Denis Troy said. "We have to look at all of this. It's not like the town was spending like crazy to get to this pint. But if costs go up and revenues go down, you have got to come up with a different plan."
Stewart again brought up the possibility of closing Broadacres Golf Course, which was controversial when he suggested it in March. The Orangetown Town Board agreed to keep the golf course open for the rest of 2012, but left the door open for future discussion of the idea.
Stewart outlined the potential impact of decisions such as using $3 million in fund balance, cutting the number of officers in the police department and the amortization of this year's pension increases. He called the idea of cutting police officers extreme, presenting the option without saying he would support it. A five percent cut in the Orangetown Police budget from 2012 would be approximately $700,000. The department currently stands at 81 officers.
"With police, the only way to get close to (cutting) five percent is to reduce the number of staff," Stewart said. "That presents and enormous dilemma for the town. As much as I want to have a small tax increase, I'm loathe to pursue the idea of collapsing a patrol sector to save on police costs. That's probably what it would take to get substantial savings."
Councilman Tom Morr asked for a five-year projection to be included if the proposed supervisor's budget includes using fund balance.
"We should try to push out a multi-year budget. Take a percentage increase look at a year or two or three from now," Stewart said. "That is particularly important for the use of the reserve fund. Whatever amount we use in 2013, it will be or will almost be our last chance to dip into that without finding a way to restore that fund.
"One situation we don't want to be in is we give everybody whiplash by using enough reserve now to keep a moderate tax increase, then everybody is doing flip-flops when we don't have enough to keep the increase down (in the future) and you get a real spike."
The amortization of the pension increases had been part of the plan for 2012, but it was not done. Ann Maestri of the finance department said she is still finding out where that money is coming from in 2012.
Stewart said his own suggestions for the town will be available Monday. He did suggest meeting individually with the members of the town board this week in preparation.