Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart focused on a theme of "Orangetown Works" in his state of the town address at Wednesday's Orangetown Reorganizational Meeting in town hall.
"The people who govern Orangetown work together to take care of each other, preserve our assets, weather storms both budgetary and meteorological and get the job done," Stewart said. "Though 2012 was a challenging year for all of us, in Orangetown, we met those challenges head on and overcame them and the state of our town remains strong.
"In town government this year we faced fiscal challenges made worse by Rockland County's budget situation and the shifting of costs to the towns. And then in October, Superstorm Sandy caused widespread devastation, destroying power lines, homes and other property while disrupting daily lives and economic activity."
Stewart spoke of his responsibility to lead the Orangetown budget process, attempting to limit tax increases while maintaining town services. Orangetown's 2013 budget included a tax increase below the state's mandated two percent cap at 1.66%.
"First and foremost, our town budget for 2013 not only came in well under the New York State two percent tax cap, but for the first time that anyone can remember, we actually plan to spend less in 2013 than 2012. Let's be clear. I'll repeat it. Our budget for 2013 is actually smaller than 2012, which no other town in Rockland was able to achieve."
Stewart again raised concerns about the lack of capital spending and the use of reserve funds that played a part in keeping taxes low.
"This success comes at the cost of the elimination of capital spending and using a good deal of reserve funds. In this sense, Orangetown is part of a disturbing statewide trend of delaying spending on capital projects such as police cars, roof repairs, playgrounds and roads, in order to fund more pressing operational costs. We cannot do this forever, my friends, without fundamentally changing the character of local government services."
Stewart also highlighted projects designed to improve Orangetown's finances and quality of life including:
- Economic developments such as Orangetown Commons, which is under construction, and The Point at Lake Tappan, which is on track to start in 2013.
- Moving toward planning budgets with future years in mind.
- Improving the town's broadcasting capabilities, which will increase public access to meetings.
- Moving forward on the development of the Rockland Psychiatric Center property.
Councilman Tom Diviny focused part of his comments on the need to move faster on RPC.
"The way I see RPC is we have to finalize our plan and get the developer hired in the next six to nine months," Diviny said. "The project has been going on for too long. We've got to do the work. We've got to take down the buildings in RPC."
Diviny also mentioned the importance of formalizing the Orangetown Emergency Management Committee. The importance of Orangetown's coordinated emergency response showed during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath, something also mentioned as Orangetown honored its emergency responders and town employees earlier in the evening.
Though there was some disagreement within the council at the end of the 2013 budget planning process, members of the town board focused on the importance of cooperation within the town government.
"It was mentioned how politically diverse our nation has become and how it has divided us in a lot of ways and caused a lot of angst," Councilman Tom Morr said. "People have become disgruntled with federal officials to the point of seeming to lose credibility. I would challenge federal officials to come to Orangetown. Orangetown is just as politically diverse as this country is, and at the end of the day, we come together and get it done. We focused on what needs to be done; we come up with a great process, a great product. To me, there is no better place to live."
"It is important we work in a bipartisan manner," Councilman Denis Troy said. "I work with Republicans. I fight with Republicans. I work with Democrats. I fight with Democrats. What you try to do is in the best interests of the people in the town."
Troy also raised the issue of mandate relief from the state.
"With the two percent cap, the governor pats himself on the back and says, 'I did a great job and it's up to the municipalities," Troy said. "The municipalities are hamstrung by a lot of rules that come out of Albany. We need help."
Troy agreed with Stewart that the town cannot continue to rely on cutting capital spending and using fund balance, but he restated his support for keeping Broadacres Golf Course open. Stewart has argued for it to be closed. Troy also called for a settlement in the long-standing contract dispute between the town and the CSEA.
Valentine said the board did a good job dealing with the 2013 budget, but much more work remains. He said that greater efficiency is a key to cutting expenses.
"I think we've got a good group of guys, when we put our heads together, we can do that," Valentine said.
Editor's Note: Video clips of comments by all five members of the town council are attached to this report.