Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart's proposed budget for 2013 calls for a 9.19% increase, but he has called that a work in progress.
The other members of the Orangetown town board offered their own ideas for the upcoming year and beyond at Tuesday's town board meeting, including the idea of selling the town's sewer department and eliminating the position of Orangetown Receiver of Taxes in 2014.
"These ideas are food for thought," Councilman Paul Valentine said. "They are some ideas we'd like to consider going after, especially the bigger ideas of possibly selling the sewer department and eliminating the receiver of taxes.
"A 9.19 percent increase is a lot for town residents. Everybody is feeling the pinch. We're trying to keep it affordable. Andy worked hard getting it down to 9.19, but we have to get it below."
"I'm impressed," Stewart said. "It's great to hear so many good ideas flowing. We definitely have to do our homework on a number of these. We can't turn a big ship on a dime. We have to plan several years out."
Stewart began the budget discussion by calling for the board to set a public hearing regarding exceeding the state-mandated two percent tax cap for Oct. 23. The council voted unanimously to set the hearing. The town board would have to vote to modify town law to allow a budget exceeding the cap to be passed. A similar measure was defeated during the 2012 budget process.
Stewart said it would be a miracle for the 2013 budget to come in under the cap.
"The final budget is due Nov. 7, with the state deadline Nov. 20. I think it is likely the town will want to adopt a budget that exceeds the two percent tax cap," Stewart said. "What seems to make the most sense is to set the time schedule now so we don't end up with things piled on top of each other at the end of the budget process."
All Tuesday's vote did was set the hearing. Even would approve a measure giving itself the ability to exceed the cap, the final decision would not be made until the 2013 budget is adopted.
"With 9.19%, it appears we're probably going to have to (go over the cap0), but we're still working on getting the budget down lower."
Budget Proposals, Cuts
Diviny and Valentine read from a list of ideas put together by the rest of the council. At the top was the idea of selling the Orangetown Department of Environmental Management and Engineering (DEME, also known as the sewer department) to the Rockland County Sewer District. Diviny said he discussed this option with members of the Rockland County Legislature and found that there is interest.
They also raised the possibility of getting rid of the office of Receiver of Taxes currently held by Bob Simon, moving those duties to the town clerk's office. This would have to go to a public vote and the idea would be to put it on the ballot in 2014.
Regarding the Orangetown Police Department, Diviny said the town should not buy any new police cars in 2013 and should cut all training not required for certifications, but the budget would call for 83 police officers to ensure the department does not drop below 80 during 2013. Diviny said the potential cuts in services and rise in response times if the number of officers dropped below 80 was unacceptable.
"We need the police on the street, at least 80 officers," Diviny said.
Among other suggestions were:
- Eliminating the use of town cars for employees unless contractually obligations require them.
- Add a $10 fee at the Orangetown Highway Department's drop-off center rather than cut the program.
- Reduce conferences and classes for other town departments
- Eliminate one court constable in the Orangetown Justice Court.
- Consider one-week furloughs for town employees to help avoid layoffs.
Broadacres Debate Continues
Residents continued to speak against Stewart's proposal to close Broadacres Golf Course as part of the 2013 budget. The primary argument raised Tuesday was that Broadacres is one of the few recreational activities geared toward Orangetown's seniors.
"(The possible closing) is very upsetting to myself and to my fellow golfers," said May Krieder of Pearl River. "We're mostly retired seniors who have given an awful lot to this town.
"The only real adult or senior recreational facility we have is Broadacres. It is a place we can golf without worrying about our handicaps. We can't go to Blue Hill. Our handicaps are too high. I won't tell you mine. After being here for 42 years and giving my all to this town and county, the only thing we have is a nice place we can play nine holes of golf."
Melanie Powell of Clarkstown, who is vice president of a ladies league at Broadacres, said the facility also offers a better opportunity for charitable events, including a recent fundraiser for breast cancer.
"Where will the golf outings we raise money for breast cancer at be played?"
Orangetown resident Pat McAndrews said. "I'm a simple girl, Mr. Supervisor, and I'm having a hard time understanding how closing Broadacres will help the financial problems of Orangetown."