Town hopes to keep total below state limit
BY ROBERT KNIGHT
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES
The Orangetown Town Board has delayed adoption of a 2017 budget by a week, hoping that the additional time will allow the five-member council to make additional cuts to the spending plan, and stay safely below the state mandated tax increase limit of 0.6 percent.
The council held a public hearing on the Preliminary Budget on Nov. 1, a budget prepared by Supervisor Stewart and his staff to be approximately $100,000 below the NYS Tax Cap. Rather than adopting the budget on November 1, the Town Board chose to continue discussion of possible amendments at the town meeting on November 15. The NYS deadline for adoption of a final town budget is November 20.
The council is composed of three Republicans and two Democrats. While the GOP has the numerical majority, the Dems have an ace in the hole in that Supervisor Andrew Stewart is a member of that minority party, and as such appoints the finance director, who prepares the budget, among other duties.
And council members have all indicated that they prefer voting unanimously, if possible, to show solidarity on a proposed budget.
At last week’s meeting when it came time to vote on the budget it became quickly evident that Republican Councilmen Thomas Diviny and Denis Troy had additional spending they wanted to make, offset by cuts, all focused on town staff.
Duties in some departments are being decreased while those in other departments are being increased, and Diviny and Troy said they wanted those changes reflected in the final budget proposal. Stewart and other council members indicated the biggest change will be in the Sewer Department, also known as the Department of Environmental Management and Engineering, or DEME.
The council is discussing the following personnel changes: in the building department, cutting one of two current code enforcement officials and adding an assistant building inspector position, to reduce the backlog of building permit applications. In the sewer department, eliminating the position of chief operator (to be replaced with a consultant) and adding another engineer with expertise in air pollution and public health.
The addition of this town position of Public Health Engineer would make up for the loss of services from Rockland County Health Department which has eliminated staff and programs related to enforcing air pollution and odor laws. County employee Greg Price was well known in Orangetown for his work reducing odor and pollution from Aluf Plastics among other sources, prior to his death a few years ago and the elimination of these county services.
The Public Health Engineer position would cost the town about $100,000 per year and help the town with its review of town-enforced performance standards for industries that are potential sources of air or water pollution. The Aluf factory in Blauvelt is a frequent source of foul burning plastic odors and is currently under investigation by the town and the NYS DEC.
Stewart and other town officials said they first tried to pressure Day and Orangetown’s county legislators to re-instate Price’s position at the County Health Department, but got no cooperation whatsoever from the finance-stressed county leaders.
The GOP is seeking to fund the new engineering position through the elimination of the chief operator position at the sewer plant, to the consternation of the Commissioner of Sewers, Joe Moran. Moran objected, saying when the current chief operator retires in 2017, the plant will still need somebody qualified to keep the plant in compliance with NYS DEC permit regulations, supervise plant staff and conduct quarterly reviews of the town’s 19 industrial users who must meet specialized wastewater standards to discharge wastewater into the sewer system.
Also bothering council members last week was the anticipated cost of trying to design and build a new town hall. The council has already committed substantial funds next year to hire a planning/engineering/architectural firm to design a new headquarters for town government, to replace the dilapidated 60-year-old town Hall currently located at 26 Orangeburg Road, which opened in 1960.
The total project is expected to cost between $10 and $14 million, and officials are worried about how they can finance such a figure without dramatically raising the budget, and thus local real property taxes at the same time. And even seemingly small budget increases have officials worried, such as $40,000 they have budget to demolish a 19th century Dutch house the town owns but no longer wants to maintain.
The nearly 200-year-old house is on Blue Hill Road North, at the entrance to the town-owned Blue Hill Golf Course, and was previously used to house the course’s golf pro and his family. The structure has been vacant for a decade and has been deemed unsafe for habitation or rental by the town’s building department and attorneys. It is also reported to contain both lead and asbestos, making demolition costs skyrocket to meet state and federal safety and environmental standards.
Last week the council came under a blistering attack from Town Clerk Charlotte Madigan, who protested loudly their plan to cut her 2017 budget to help fund other departments’ needs.
Not only is Madigan being saddled with a new responsibility next year of administering the town’s new landlord registration act, but the following January she also must accept responsibility for collecting all property taxes in Orangetown, when the receiver of taxes office is abolished. The council has already added a full-time position to the Clerk’s office to help with the tax collection, but Madigan insisted she needs more staff.
Because of these and myriad other financial debates last week, the council decided it was unable to vote on a final budget for next year. Instead, they pushed the vote off by a week during which they can hopefully reach some agreements.’
Timing is critical because the state deadline for town budget adoptions is Nov. 20, prior to the next regular town board meeting scheduled for November 29. This means they must adopt a final budget on November 15 or schedule a special meeting of the town board before Nov. 20 to give themselves some breathing room. The board also voted to postpone interviews with potential town hall design firms from the original date of Nov. 22 to Nov.30. The 6 p.m. meeting at town hall will feature presentations by three or four firms currently vying for the job, with everyone dining on a large delivery of pizza.
Tuesday’s budget vote at 8 p.m. and the Nov. 30 Town Hall review meeting are both open to the public, and will be held at the current town hall on Orangeburg Road.