BY MARIA MIRAKAJ BROWNSELL
Room 301 at Town Hall in Clarkstown filled up last Thursday as public hearings about the town budget took place. Many residents, police officers and public officials chatted amongst themselves while waiting for the meeting to begin.
The first hearing was about a proposed “local law to override the tax levy limit established by general municipal law 3-C.” With this new law, there is a budget increase of 6.2 percent for the upcoming year.
“Enough is enough with raising taxes. More people are moving out than moving in and you don’t care!” exclaimed an angry resident. Several residents demanded to know what is being done to decrease the need for so much taxpayer cash. Supervisor Gromack explained that the Town of Clarkstown has already cut or consolidated parts of their workforce by about 72 people in the past few years, unlike other towns in the county that are just doing this now.
He also again blamed Rockland County for passing along many charges to the towns that they never had before, such as charges for Rockland Community College and the board of elections.
The details of the budget during the second public hearing sparked hours of debate. Tom Nimick of New City went through details of the budget line by line asking questions. “Why do eight attorneys need to work for the town?” he asked. Town Attorney Amy Mele responded that they save money by having their own attorney and not need to go to outside sources. If they cut the number of attorneys, many essential jobs wouldn’t be completed, she claimed.
Nimick also pointed out that the cost of community beautification increased from $1,625 to $20,000. He was told that the costs of flowers, shrubs, flags, holiday decorations, pendants and the revitalization of downtown are part of this. The details of the over $18,000 increase were not explained.
Nimick asked about the $60,000 budget for part time work for the Highway Department. This budget covers a supplemental work force, such as with leaf collection. He asked about the possibility of removing $75,000 from the highway superintendent’s budget. Councilman George Hoehmann said that the budget is $400,000 less than last year, but Nimick responded that it isn’t less if the costs were shifted into another department. The mechanics salary was moved into the garage consolidation.
“The highway department for the past two weeks has been working above and beyond,” said Councilwoman Stephanie Hausner. “The citizens of Clarkstown have seen that the position is valuable.”
Michael Hull of Bardonia asked about the 2.5 percent increase to the police department for the next five years. “We have the highest police salary with one million dollars per four officers. Senior citizens are only getting a 1.8 percent increase. Would the PBA consider giving back some of that for the seniors to get?” asked Hull.
Councilman Borelli responded, “2.5 percent is the agreed settlement with the PBA. It is a fair agreement between the police department and the town. If we went to arbitration it would have been way more.”
“We no longer have the highest paid police force in the county. Ramapo is much higher. And the police force is down significantly,” added Hoehmann.
“Has the board succumbed to a threat by the PBA? Is this blackmail? With an arbitration threat, I feel this is blackmail,” said Hull.
Joe Ciardullo of New City asked about the percentage that was given to department heads to cut budgets within the town. “What’s going to happen in the next few years if there’s a 6.2 percent increase now? Is there relief in sight? Should we move away?” he asked. “You keep asking for more money. Our taxes are almost as much as our mortgages. You need to be more upfront with the people.”
There has been a 5 percent cut in most department budgets, explained Gromack. Going forward the town is trying to get rid of county costs, either through negotiation or the legal system, whichever it may take by all five towns and a number of villages. He also said that an “uptick” in the economy would help through sales tax, mortgages and other money making aspects. Ciardullo asked about cutting different community programs, but members of the board talked about how certain people like certain programs while others do not. The board does not want to cut senior programming, the town pools, or other community activities. “Not every program makes money,” said Gromack.
“Taxes are so high people can’t afford to move here. Ask the realtors. You can’t sell a house when the mortgage and taxes are equal to each other,” said a heated Ciardullo.
“Everyone wants what’s important to them,” said Councilwoman Lasker.
“It is certainly expensive to live in Rockland, but people are here because they want certain things,” said Gromack.