Orangetown Adopts 2017 Budget, Stays Under State Cap by $104,000

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BY ROBERT KNIGHT
CITY EDITOR
ROCKLAND COUNTY TIMES

The Orangetown Town Board adopted a 2017 budget Tuesday evening, and managed to stay below the state mandated tax cap limit by $104,000. The adopted budget differs little from the tentative budget Supervisor Stewart presented to the Town Board on September 27.

The total budget for next year will be $72,870,009, a whopping $4.5 million higher than this year’s adopted figure of $68,305,677, according to town Finance Director Jeff Bencik.

Several grants, fee schedules and other revenue sources will greatly reduce next year’s expenditures, however, Bencik explained, bringing the net total to just below this year’s spending package and thus meeting the state’s mandate to avoid increased spending.

Had the proposed budget exceeded this year’s amount by more than two percent, it would have required a “super majority” of four council votes for approval, rather than the simple majority of 3-2 that is ordinarily required. Staying below the cap also avoids financial penalties the state could impose on the township.

As it turned out, the split among council members didn’t matter, however, because the five-member board voted unanimously, 5-0, to approve the recommended package.

Town property tax bills, based on the budget, will be mailed out to all property owners the first week of January, with payments due at the end of the month.

Bencik predicted that the bills for homeowners would be slightly below this year’s figures, while those for commercial properties may see a slight increase.  On average, he guessed, tax bills should remain about even.

Bencik also noted that this is the fifth consecutive year that Orangetown has remained below the state tax cap limit, something he said no other township has been able to accomplish.

Offsetting the $4.5 million spending increase in the proposed budget, Bencik said the largest is a $1.9 million contribution the town is scheduled to receive from the IRG Corporation, the new owner of the former Lederle Laboratory complex in Pearl River. The money represents an increased valuation on the 100-acre parcel off Middletown Road, which has seen several new tenants occupying formerly vacant buildings in the past couple of years.

Other unexpected revenue increases include using $2.5 million from unexpended revenues in the 2016 budget, $700,000 in increased sewer fees and $200,000 in fees from other municipalities in return for the town’s collection of their taxes within its own bill. The large surplus in this year’s budget is due to the elimination of several positions in town government, not filling other vacant job slots, and reduced spending on various projects, Bencik said.

Several last minute changes were made to next year’s budget at Tuesday night’s meeting as well, with a net change of an additional $18,157. Among the larger changes were:

  • Deleting $41,480 for an eliminated position in the sewer department;
  • Adding $62,700 for creation of a new position in that same department;
  • Increasing fringe benefit costs for employees by $26,805;
  • Increasing shared services staff costs by $5,000;
  • Increasing Highway Superintendent James Dean’s annual salary by $1,500;
  • Decreasing inspection service fees by $13,913;
  • Decreasing funding to the Orangeburg Public Library by $14,936.

Three of those votes drew split responses from council members, with Stewart opposing the library reduction, Tom Diviny opposing changes in the finance office and Diviny and Denis Troy opposing the loss of a position in the sewer department. Each of the amendments drew a favorable vote of three or more board members, however, leading to each being approved.

A public hearing on increasing Dean’s salary by $1,500 was scheduled to be approved for the board’s Nov. 29 meeting, but was postponed indefinitely Tuesday because a legal advertisement for the hearing was not prepared for publication in time, thus negating a time limit imposed by state law. Council members said they would reschedule the vote for later this year, and fully anticipate its being approved.

The council also removed three other items scheduled for a vote on Nov. 29 from the agenda Tuesday, for varying reasons.

  • Two resolutions were tabled to hire attorney Richard Zuckerman as chief negotiator and create a seven-member bargaining committee to negotiate with the Orangetown Policeman’s Benevolent Association (PBA) on a new contract. The current contract expires this year. The motions were tabled when the council realized its contract with the Civil Services Employees Association (CSEA) also expires, and they expressed a desire to have their bargaining team negotiate with both unions at the same time.
  • A resolution to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for auditing services for next year was cancelled, with council members deciding instead to extend the current contract with the accounting firm of O’Connor Kielson for another year, at the same cost.  Board members expressed uneasiness over accounting scandals in neighboring Ramapo, where the same firm is also employed, as their basis for seeking competitive bids from other firms. Bencik and Town Attorney John Edwards advised the board that the firm relies on figures provided by the town, however, and thus cannot be held accountable for errors based on those figures. Board members reserved opinion on whether to seek new bids next year, however, covering 2018 and beyond.

In other action at Tuesday night’s meeting the council agreed to place the following items on their next business meeting agenda, Nov. 29. If adopted at that time, the resolutions would:

  • Approve a contract amendment with Verizon Wireless to allow the telecommunications firm to erect additional antennas on a steel tower adjacent to Town Hall, at an additional fee to the town of $200 per month, per antenna. The new contract will run for five years.
  • Approve the irrevocable resignation of an Orangetown police officer, effective April 30of next year, to avoid litigation over his dismissal for unspecified charges. The officer was also not named, but referred to only by his employee number.
  • Hire Alexandros Tsironis as the information services and records management specialist in the police department.
  • Create a new civil service position of assistant maintenance supervisor in the sewer department, with a salary range of $75,835 to $122,120 depending on experience and qualifications.
  • Appoint Jessica Garrecht as senior clerk/typist in the justice court, at a salary of $41,858.
  • Upgrade the position of supervisor of fiscal services from grade 19 to grade 24, with a salary of $101,088.
  • Accept the retirement resignation of sewer department chief operator Keneck Skibinski, effective March 24, 2017.
  • Appoint Robert Murphy automotive mechanic in the sewer department effective Dec. 5at a salary of $100,626.
  • Renew a five-year contract with Goosetown Communications to provide rental of a mobile radio system for all highway vehicles, at an annual fee of $35,100.
  • Extend a contract between the town and the New York State Department of Transportation for the town highway department to plow and sand state highways within Orangetown during 2017 for a fee of $213,000.
  • Approve aid to the Pearl River Rotary Club for its Shared Christmas and Holidays program Dec. 9. The club will pay Orangetown $400 for use of the town “showmobile,” and the town will provide police, highway, trash barrels, message board, barricades and other assistance for free.
  • Increase a grant application seeking $3,500 to $4,459 to the New York State Justice Court Assistance Program for security equipment and scanning software for the town justice court at Town Hall.
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