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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, October 28, 2010
Spending stays steady
By Jo E. Prout
WESTERLO Without releasing its full budget to the public, the Westerlo Town Board voted last week to accept its tentative budget as preliminary, with few changes to the $2.5 million budget it adopted last year.
A public hearing on the preliminary budget will be held on Nov. 3, at 7:45 p.m., at the town hall.
The board also changed the town’s animal control officer’s title to dog warden, to eliminate the need for the current officers to take a Civil Service exam.
“We tried to stay as low as possible,” said town supervisor and budget officer Richard Rapp this week. “We’ll break about even. I think that’s an accomplishment, itself. Right now, it looks like it will be a little decrease.”
Rapp estimated the budget numbers without an Albany County budget in place, and without county sales-tax revenue numbers. The county distributes sales-tax revenues to municipalities based on population.
“We increased that a little,” Rapp said about the expected sales-tax revenue. Last year’s revenue was $8,000, up several hundred from the previous year, Rapp said.
“Thank God for sales tax,” Rapp said at the budget workshop last week. “Everybody pays. It’s a fair tax.”
“No tax is fair,” said board member Ed Rash.
Rapp estimated the town tax rate at $1.11 per $1,000 of assessed value.
He presented a tentative budget with a 2-percent raise for employees.
“I know it’s not a lot, but it’s better than nothing,” Rapp told the board last week. His own salary stayed the same, but the clerk’s and other town employees’ salaries were increased in the tentative budget, he said.
Rapp earns $15,000 annually. The salary proposed for the superintendent of highways is $54,060, for the town clerk/ tax collector is $31,400, for the town justices is $10,000 each, and for the councilmen is $7,250 each.
The budget included reductions in fees for auditing and engineering, and an increase in election costs. The county board of elections has passed on some costs to towns.
“I raised that,” Rapp said. “The damn board of elections runs everything now.”
Board member R. Gregory Zeh went through the budget line by line with Rapp and Town Clerk Gertrude Smith.
Costs for 911 service went up $5,000 to a current $85,000, Rapp said, and funds for the highway garage went down in the tentative budget. The town’s indebtedness, mostly for two big trucks and two small trucks, remained constant.
“We’re in pretty decent shape financially, in that,” Rapp said. He expects the trucks to last at least 10 years, he said.
“The guys in the garage do a good job taking care of their stuff,” Rapp said.
The newly-adopted preliminary budget maintains funds for planning board members, with each continuing to earn $2,500 per year, with the chairman continuing to earn $4,500 per year. Rapp created a line for a youth program, and kept funds for parks.
Rapp said that state retirement and Social Security costs to be paid by the town had increased.
“I did lower the salaries in the museum,” he said. The local museum’s allotment from the town was $6,400, he said, with the majority going toward personnel and Social Security costs.
“I think a lot of these grants are going to dry up,” Rapp said about part of the museum’s funding.
The budget for the rescue squad remains the same as last year, Rapp said, at $94,900. The fire company’s budget went up $4,323 to a total of $185,030.
“You can’t afford to live here anymore. Seniors want to move the hell out,” Rapp said.
Seeking to eliminate the need for the current animal control officers to take Civil Service exams, the board voted 4 to 1 to change the title but not the duties of the positions. Zeh voted against the change, and said that the Civil Service offers equal opportunities for job seekers.
Rash agreed to vote for the change, “as long as it doesn’t change the duties,” he said. Another board member said that the Civil Service exam created more red tape for the town.
The two part-time animal control officers, who work full-time for the highway department, will now be called dog wardens.
Rapp said that the title change was made specifically because each officer would have to “take a test that Einstein will fail.” He said that the town used to have dog wardens before Civil Service imposed the new job title and description of animal control officer on the town.
“Now, we’re going back to what we used to be,” Rapp said.
Most calls for dog wardens are during the night or early morning, he said. The two wardens usually work those extra few hours before coming into the highway department in the morning, Rapp said. Each warden is paid about $2,200 per year, he said.
Two calls to the Albany County Department of Civil Service were not returned before press time.
The change comes at a time when towns have had dog licensing returned to local control, after the state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets eliminated its role overseeing the licensing and maintaining the data.
Smith said last week that the town has about 400 licensed dogs. She estimated that double that number live in the town.
The cost to license a neutered or spayed dog will remain at $5, and the cost to license all other dogs will remain at $13.
“We won’t have to share the money with the county and the state,” Smith told The Enterprise. The town used to keep 52 percent of the fees, but will now pocket the full amount, she said.