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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 18, 2010


Hilltown budgets for 2011
Spending down, taxes steady as rainy-day funds are used

By Zach Simeone

HILLTOWNS — In rough economic times, overall spending in the Hilltowns will decrease slightly in 2011.

Rensselaerville’s town board, at its final budget meeting on Tuesday, voted unanimously to freeze spending through the end of the year, allowing only expenses related to public safety and the highway contract.

Westerlo adopted a $2.5-million budget on Nov. 3 after its final public hearing; spending is down about $12,000 from this year. Knox adopted its $2.06-million spending plan — down about $60,000 — last Tuesday, and Berne passed its $2.2-million budget — down about $140,000 — the next day. And the Rensselaerville Town Board, at its meeting Tuesday night, approved its fiscal blueprint for next year, which is about $20,000 higher than the current year.

All of the towns are taking sizeable chunks from their rainy-day accounts to keep property taxes in check.

Rensselaerville

The adopted budget for 2011 is the same as the preliminary budget, with the exception of adding $650 for each lighting district. It represents an increase of $20,000 over this year, and totals $2,231,719 in spending for next year.

The $2.2-million spending plan will appropriate $1,170,479 from property taxes, about $25,000 less than the $1.2-million in the 2010 budget. The highway budget for next year will total $1.1 million, and the general fund, $928,222.

The town’s rainy day account will provide $250,000 — $100,000 from the unexpended general fund balance, and $150,000 from the highway balance — as opposed to the $181,500 used this year.

There was brief discussion on this at Tuesday’s meeting when Councilwoman Marion Cooke objected to the ratio of money taken from one fund to money taken from the other.

“The reasoning behind that,” Supervisor Marie Dermody said, “after speaking with the auditors, is that the reason there’s such a considerable amount of money in unexpended funds for highway is that the highway has been overfunded for way too many years,” she said, referring to the recent audit by Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners.

“Why is there so much in the general fund then?” asked Cooke.

According to the town’s final audit report for 2009, there is an unexpended balance of $455,242 for the general fund, and $361,839 for the highway fund, Dermody said in September.

“Based on their review of our records,” Dermody replied, “because of the over funding, it was an attempt to give some of that back to the taxpayers.”

Cooke said equal amounts should be taken from the highway and general funds, or the highway fund would be in danger of being left with too low of a balance, considering the recent charge to also purchase a new heavy-duty truck in the range of $100,000.

During last month’s budget meetings, there was arguing between Cooke, a Conservative, and Dermody, a Democrat like the rest of the board members, over whether or not longtime town clerk, Kathleen Hallenbeck, should get a raise next year. Cooke again expressed her disagreement Tuesday, but she stood alone.

“My reasoning stands,” said Dermody. She had said previously, “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…It’s not the person; it’s the position.”

Hallenbeck currently earns $31,340; next year, she will make $32,280.

Cooke then asked that the board reconsider Highway Superintendent Gary Zeh’s request for a raise. Zeh, also a Conservative, defeated long-time Democratic highway superintendent, G. Jon Chase, in last year’s election.

Zeh, who took office in January, pointed out that highway superintendents in neighboring towns make more than he does; Kenneth Weaver, Berne’s highway superintendent, is to make $49,200 in 2011.

Further, 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.

“Frankly,” Dermody told Zeh last month, “the $41,500 was a $500 raise from the previous year, in his first year on the job.”

Councilman Gary Chase, son of G. Jon Chase, added, “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.”

In the end, the highway clerk’s line was reduced to $7,500, but Zeh’s pay will remain at $41,500 in the 2011 budget.

The board also expects $410,000 in county sales tax revenue next year.

Berne

The 2011 budget for Berne, at $2,149,413, was adopted last Wednesday by all four town board members present; Councilman James Hamilton was absent from this month’s regular meeting.

The town was recently awarded a $30,000 grant from the New York State Department of Education, which Supervisor George Gebe said recently would likely go towards expected building improvements. The town hall building currently houses the library and historical society as well as town offices, but plans are underway to move the crowded library to the senior center.

“This is a futuristic look at four or five years down the line,” Gebe said shortly after the preliminary budget was introduced last month. “We’re trying to gate the town park so people aren’t going in there and vandalizing; resurfacing the park because that’s starting to break up; right now I’m taking a look at the roof on the town building because it’s leaking and it’s got to be replaced; and insulation for the town garage and two stalls where we keep diesel trucks.”

The town is also considering upgrades for the town hall and library, he said.

“I don’t know when that’s going to come in,” Gebe said, “so, how do we divide that out? Do we do it all at one time and have a bond issue, or do we do it in phases?” The town board is working to answer these questions.

This was Gebe’s first budget as supervisor. After winning in last November’s elections, Gebe took office on Jan. 1.

The adopted 2011 budget is $100,665 higher than the first version of the budget introduced last month, largely due to a typographical error in the budget line for highway workers’ medical insurance, which will cost $100,300.

Still, next year’s budget will actually spend $139,987 less than this year’s.

The 2011 budget will count on $771,776 from property taxes, up from the $752,150 this year. The projected tax rate will be $4.74 per $1,000 of assessed value, up 9 cents from $4.65 this year.

A total of $886,543 has been appropriated for the general fund, and the highway budget for 2011 is tentatively set at $1,262,870 down from the $1.4 million in the 2010 spending plan.

One project that had been budgeted for in 2010 was the Kaehler Lane Bridge replacement, and this late-summer undertaking was recently completed. This will appear as a $216,000 decrease in next year’s highway budget.

Knox

The day before Berne adopted its plan for next year, the Knox Town Board approved the exact budget that was presented last month as the preliminary budget.

The $2.06-million spending plan for 2011 shows a decrease from this year, cutting about $60,000 from the 2010 budget.

Supervisor Michael Hammond said last month that he expects revenue from county sales tax to begin increasing in the near future, after a dip last year.

“I think we have seen the bottom of the downslide here,” Hammond said last month. “The last sales tax distribution check I got here was slightly higher.”

The 2011 budget is counting on $740,000 in county sales-tax revenue, which is distributed to municipalities by the county based on population.

Of the $2,062,890 budgeted for 2011, about $765,000 will be appropriated for the general fund, down from this year’s $813,093; about $1.02 million will go into the highway budget, down from this year’s $1.04 million.

And, while the town took a total $651,899 from its unexpended fund balance in the 2010 budget, it will take $607,283 next year. Hammond expects that $783,718 will then remain in the fund balance.

Next year’s budget will depend on $246,228 from property taxes, up from the $239,058 in the 2010 budget.

There were no raises this year for town hall employees, though the highway department is unionized, and its next three-year contract is currently being negotiated. The current contract, set to expire at the end of this year, had included yearly raises of 10 cents an hour.

The town will be paying an additional $9,000, or $46,000 in total to the state’s retirement system.

The town has also budgeted for a near-15-percent increase in health insurance premiums. Health insurance for highway workers is up from $70,000 to $75,000, and from $12,500 to $16,000 for other town employees. And advanced life support services will cost $1,300 more.

The town completed its $1.4-million town-hall renovation this year, but this has not affected the budget process for next year, as the town had been budgeting for it on an annual basis, Hammond said. Now, the town will continue making payments towards a bond anticipation note for the project, though this will actually be covered by revenue from the cellular tower that went up this year.

“In this particular year, we are actually going to be collecting more on the cell tower than we’re paying for the interest on the bond anticipation note, so there’s going to be a net gain on the general fund,” said Hammond.

Hammond went on to say that the town is hoping to bring other cellular carriers into town, “but that’s just a possibility right now,” he said.

Westerlo

The 2011 budget for Westerlo, totaling $2,518,683, is $12,119 lower than this year’s budget.

The tax levy will rise next year to $999,030, up from the $993,582 taken this year from property taxes. And $275,903 will come from the town’s unexpended balance.

Budgeting for the general fund will rise from $1,135,540 this year to $1,154,528 in 2011. Spending in the highway department will increase as well, from $897,817 to $916,283 next year.

Costs for the fire district are up by about $5,000 to $185,030; budgeting for the water district will see a $2,000 increase to $81,325; and spending for the rescue squad will remain at $94,900.

In addition, costs for the library will increase by $804, to $74,017. But a $57,200 drop in the museum’s budget will make up for some of those other increases, as it goes from $63,600 down to $6,400. Supervisor Richard Rapp also said last month that the town is expecting a boost in county sales tax revenues.

Last year’s revenue was $8,000, up several hundred from the previous year, Rapp said last month. Rapp also estimated the town tax rate at $1.11 per $1,000 of assessed value for 2011.

Town Clerk Gertrude Smith is getting a $900 raise to $31,400, and the deputy clerk line has increased by $500 to $18,500. The engineering line, on the other hand, has been cut in half from $10,000 to $5,000.

Rapp was unavailable this week to comment on the budget, and the town had not released the budget to the public until after it was adopted.


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