The Orangetown Council asked the town's department heads to offer budget proposals for 2013 with no increase or a reduction from 2012.
The board began holding public hearings for those proposals Tuesday, with the finance, information technology, town attorney, town clerk and receiver of taxes offices all presenting.
The mention of tax increase from a memo written based on a budget with no cuts at all brought complaints from residents, but there is still a long way to go in the process of planning Orangetown's budget for 2013. Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart must have his proposed budget to the town clerk by Sept. 24, but the final budget won't be approved until November.
The department heads are also being asked to turn in budget proposals with a five percent cut from 2012.
The town council heard from the Orangetown Police Department, Highway Department, Parks and Recreation and the Museum in a special meeting Thursday.
Saturday's public hearing was cancelled, with discussions of fund balance, golf, the tax cap, and presentations from the Justice, building and Department of Environmental Management and Engineering set for Monday, Sept. 10 after the regular town board meeting at 7:30 p.m. The assessor's office, fire inspector and supervisor will speak about their departments at another special meeting 7 p.m. Sept. 13.
Orangetown Police Chief Kevin Nulty and Captain Robert Zimmerman expressed their concerns about presenting a proposal that would include cutting the department's budget by five percent form 2012, which would be approximately $700,000.
"It's not going to be easy with the cuts we (already) made," Zimmerman said. "Off the top of my head, the only thing I can see is salaries or doing away with more cars."
"The biggest problem is personnel," Nulty said. "Getting rid of $40,000 jobs, it takes a long time to build up. It almost has to get into existing jobs. To get $700,000 is a pretty tough number."
Stewart responded that the board is asking all departments for a proposal with such cuts just to have all options explored.
Nulty proposed restructuring of his department to keep the budget at the same level as 2012. This includes having 83 police officers, down from 86 that were in the current year's budget.
One suggestion is the addition of a second captain and a reduction in the number of lieutenants, which would reduce the overall cost of the positions.
"We are always hearing do more with less," Nulty said. "What you have to do is different. We cut out a top management position. Hopefully, the top-level management will have more teamwork."
Councilman Tom Diviny questioned the idea and asked what would have to happen to keep the current structure. Nulty said they would have to look elsewhere for cuts just to have no increase.
The town council went into executive session with Nulty and Zimmerman to discuss the plan further at the end of Thursday's session.
The board was more receptive to Nulty's plan to increase the number of dispatchers from five to eight. Currently, one police officer is helping out in dispatching each day. This would get those officers back out on patrol. Dispatchers are also less expensive positions in the long run.
"To get that officer back on the street and, at a reduced cost, have two dispatcher who is more skilled at doing this function that they do every day," Nulty said.
Another point of discussion is the request to buy more police cars. Nulty said that some of the current ones in use are getting to the point where they will have to be replaced soon.
"We did not buy any more cars this year, but we did put the last four we bought last year into service, so there are no more spares," Zimmerman said. "The fleet has been dropping over the years."
Parks and Recreation
Orangetown Parks and Recreation Department Director Aric Gorton said he was able to turn in a budget proposal with no increase despite approximately $30,000 in contracted staff salary increases.
"That had to be absorbed in operating expenses," Gorton said. "We're coming in at zero (increase) or negative across the board, but that is becoming more and more challenging each year."
One thing the department did was shift groundskeepers, essentially replacing a full-time employee with a part-time one at Broadacres Golf Course.
"It's still a nine-hole course and there is still a lot to be done," Gorton said. "Broadacres is in great shape, but it's a challenge."
The proposal also calls for a cut in the expense of maintenance of the vacant part of the RPC property from $45,000 to under $20,000.
"I adjusted the specs on that," Gorton said. "Make it look not look like a derelict property. Mow it once a month. Make it look like somebody’s taking care of it, but not like somebody's front yard."
He also suggested cutting the television advertising budget for the town's two golf courses, Broadacres and Blue Hill Golf Course in Pearl River, something that started during 2012.
"I don't want to drop it," Gorton said. "I just don't see how I can present a budget to you with $26,000 more. It would be great to do more advertising. The TV is not in the budget. I think it's a great thing we do. We regularly hear people saying we saw your commercial. I don't want to lose it."
Among the capital expenses is work on the baseball field at Veteran's Memorial Park.
"The field is just old. It's time to do some work there, but it's a big expenditure," Gorton said.
According to Highway Superintendent James Dean, the department will have $25,000 in salary increases, a number kept down by retirements by employees with higher salaries. Dean presented a budget proposal with no increase from 2012.
"At that funding level, we can continue the level of service we are at right now," Dean said.
Councilman Tom Morr brought up the idea of using the Highway Department's fund balance, a separate fund from the town's, could be used to pay for the department's operating expenses to save on the tax levy.
Dean raised long-term concerns for his department, such as the equipment that was requested but not bonded for during 2012.
He said that while putting together another budget proposal with a five percent cut from 2012, he would reduce multiple programs rather than just cut.
"We would be reducing programs by a percentage so we can maintain the whole thing unless you tell me you want to give up a whole program, and I can probably make an argument why you shouldn't," Dean said.
He gave the example of a cut in leaf pick-up and the problems it could cause.
"We have a short window to pick up the leaves," Dean said. "If you get snow before you pick up the leaves, it's not pretty. If you are plowing leaves into people's yards, they are not happy. Last year, we were really fortunate we didn't get a snow storm after the one in October. With the brush on top of the leaves, it would have been a disaster."
Mary Cardenas presented a budget proposal for the museum that included no increases from 2012.