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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 21, 2010
Spending up by $20K
By Zach Simeone
RENSSELAERVILLE Line by line, the Rensselaerville Town Board is going through the tentative $2.2-million budget for 2011 to find savings where it can, though it currently expects to be spending close to $20,000 more than in 2010.
The $2.2-million spending plan will appropriate $946,451 from property taxes, down from the $1.2-million in the 2010 budget.
It will take $150,000 from the town’s rainy day account, as opposed to the $181,500 used this year. The board also expects $388,000 in county sales tax revenue next year, the same as this year.
And, Highway Superintendent Gary Zeh said this week that he expects the town to get about the same amount of aid from the state’s Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs); the town got about $140,000 in CHIPs aid this year.
“The state will have a hard time cutting that right now because the towns and counties, they’re depending quite a bit on that money, and our infrastructure in Albany County can’t handle any more of the hit,” Zeh told The Enterprise this week. “It’s falling apart faster than they can fix it, whether it’s at the town, county, or state level. Route 85 from Albany to Rensselaerville is a good example. It’s been falling apart for years because the state doesn’t have the money to fix it.”
Also, from conversations with members of the state’s department of transportation, Zeh gleaned that the CHIPs program may be slightly restructured.
“I’ve heard they may change the guidelines for how you can spend the money,” Zeh said. “In the past, you’ve been allowed to buy equipment with that money. I’ve heard they might change that and make it strictly for infrastructure, but that’s just what I’ve heard.”
Zeh’s total highway budget for 2011 will be close to $1.1 million.
The town board met Monday to work on budgeting for the general fund, and on Wednesday to discuss the highway fund. It will meet tonight, Thursday, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m. to discuss the special districts.
A recurring topic of discussion on Monday was whether particular employees should get raises, beginning with court clerks Gail LaPlante and Lynette Terrell. A $1,400 increase in their salary line, to be divided between the two of them, brings the total cost for the clerks up to $5,000. While this increase remains, three other pay increases were tentatively declined as of Monday night’s meeting.
The next time the subject came up, it was concerning Town Clerk Kathleen Hallenbeck. Supervisor Marie Dermody said at the meeting that it was she who proposed that Hallenbeck get a pay increase.
“I’m the one who would like us to consider a 3-percent raise, only because, for the responsibilities she has, I think she is grossly underpaid. She is going to have to start putting in more time because of taking over the dog-licensing program,” she said. “It’s not the person; it’s the position.” Hallenbeck currently earns $31,340.
Councilwoman Marion Cooke expressed her disagreement. Cooke, a Conservative, is the only member of the town board who is not a Democrat.
“It’s a bad time, in this economy, to give anyone raises; I’m sorry,” Cooke said. “People are still hurting.”
Councilman John Kudlack told board members he felt the town could afford a 3-percent raise, which would increase Hallenbeck’s salary by about $1,000.
The town clerk’s contractual budget line is up by $550 to account for the dog licensing services the town must provide next year, since the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets will no longer be maintaining its database.
The town is holding a public hearing on its new dog-licensing law on Nov. 9 at 6:30 p.m. The town will also hold a public hearing for a new local law on the Cold War Veterans’ tax exemption that night.
The issue of raises came up again when the board discussed Highway Superintendent Zeh’s request for a raise. He, too, is a Conservative and, like Cooke, ran also on the Republican line, ousting a Democrat last fall.
The town had budgeted $10,300 in 2010 to go towards a clerk to the highway superintendent. But, as Zeh did not use a clerk this year, that money was not spent, which Zeh used to justify his request for a pay increase. Zeh had hoped to increase his pay from $41,500 to $44,300, while reducing the highway clerk’s budget line from $10,300 to $7,500.
“I’m recommending that it stays at $41,500,” Dermody said.
“He probably would be smart to take the clerk,” said Councilwoman Dale Dorner.
“I still feel that we need the clerk in there at $10,300,” Dermody said. “Now that he’s really gotten his feet wet,” she said of Zeh, who took office on Jan. 1, “maybe the clerk would help to do a lot of the clerical stuff, and we need him to do a lot of the hands-on road stuff…And, frankly, the $41,500 was a $500 raise from the previous year, in his first year on the job.”
“I know raises are not a popular subject in today’s economy,” Zeh replied, “but just a couple things…Durham and Berne, which have pretty much the same miles of highways as we do, their superintendents get paid $48,000; that seems to be standard in the industry. And I did save the town $10,300 in clerk’s fees…And also, any raise you give me will be paid for over the long run, in the way we’re fixing roads; we won’t have to go back and fix them again. Just some food for thought.”
Councilman Gary Chase remembered the years that his father, G. Jon Chase, was highway superintendent.
“Highway’s been fighting that for 15 years to get comparable [pay], and last year was the first time in six years that we actually gave a raise,” Chase said.
The board also discussed giving a pay raise to Jon Whitbeck, the town’s recycling officer.
“This is the only other one that I suggested,” said Dermody, “and that’s because this year, our recycling coordinator has done all of the mowing around Town Hall by himself, which saves this town over $3,000 to begin with, and has agreed to do the minor building repairs and maintenance, that we don’t have anyone else to do anyway…and I have to tell you, I talked him into it,” she said of giving Whitbeck a raise.
She also said that, because Whitbeck now makes a salary, rather than being paid hourly, he makes almost $5,000 less a year.
Again, Councilwoman Cooke immediately objected, and, after a brief discussion with Whitbeck, the board agreed to leave his salary as is for now.
The town is also budgeting about $13,000 less for playgrounds in 2011. A discussion between Chase and Valerie Lounsbury of the Preston Hollow Park told the audience why.
“To summarize it,” Chase said, “last year, at budgeting time, we actually gave you more money so you could fix the tennis courts, but you guys saved money on the tennis courts, and you put it into a capital improvement fund…and you’re going to roll it over into this year.”
“That’s right,” replied Lounsbury. “We still have to do the fence around the tennis court, which we figured in last year, but we haven’t gotten the work done.” And, Lounsbury said that the playground has been putting money aside over time to purchase a new lawnmower.
An extra $300 budgeted for the bookkeeper will go towards purchasing a netbook, which will mean greater security for the town’s data, the board said.
And, a total $245,375 will come from the lighting, fire, sewer, water, and ambulance districts, but that is subject to change after tonight’s budget meeting on special districts.