Budget Discussions Heat Up at Stony Point Board Meeting; Public Hearing on Sign Law Change Also Opened

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

The Stony Point Town Board continued its discussions on the proposed 2015 budget last Tuesday night, after having initially heard from most of the department heads at the prior October 14 meeting. Supervisor Geoff Finn, in response to feedback from the other councilmembers, announced that he had found ways to further reduce spending by a total of $133,886. This brings the current proposed budget to $15,089,848.

Finn stated the following changes that would result in an overall savings: increasing sales tax revenue, per Rockland County projections, by $21,000; a $40,800 increase in “other licenses/permits” due to the anticipated revenue from the proposed gasification plant; a reduction in the building expenses of $10,829; and the addition of $75,000 from the reserve fund. As a result of these changes, he claimed, homestead taxes would actually decrease from current rates by a little less than 1 percent, and commercial/business taxes would increase by 7.5 percent instead of the 8 percent under the originally proposed budget.

Councilman James White insisted, however, that the budget be trimmed even further, claiming that at least another $100,000 dollars could be saved by reducing allocations for highway, sewer and parks overtime. He asserted that instead, if additional overtime were needed—such as was the case last winter—that it could be paid for out of the reserve fund. He noted that the reserve fund included the proceeds from the cell tower lease sale last year, and that the money had been put away for just such a purpose. In response to a question later, he and Finn both agreed that there is currently about 4 million dollars in the reserve fund.

Councilman Tom Basile also questioned the efficacy of the budget, noting that a 7.5 percent increase in commercial taxation would result in an overall 30 percent increase over the last five years. He voiced concern that this trend would have a negative impact on the Town’s continuing search to bring in investors and rateables, since many businesses would not want to set up shop in a locale where the taxes appear to be steeply on the rise. He also expressed concern over the local “mom and pop” businesses, who might be priced out of business by the increases. He agreed with White that money could be saved by cutting overtime allotments, and also objected to mid-term pay increases for elected officials.

During the public hearing on the budget, Joe Segelbacher, President of the Stony Point Ambulance Corps, pleaded with the Board for an increase in budget funding. Although the Board appeared firm that there would be no more money coming forward, it also discussed other ways it could support the Corps in seeking revenue, including exploring the possibility of bonding the purchase of ambulance vehicles and then leasing them to the Corps, and assisting the Corps with the preparation and sale of its former headquarters.

The Board closed the public hearing, and voted on the proposed budget. Finn, Karl Javanes and Jim Monaghan all voted to accept it, White voted no, and Basile abstained. The Board will continue to discuss budget modifications, however, since it does not have to vote on the final budget until November 20. White stated that he will have a line item list of deductions ready to be discussed at the next meeting.

The Board also opened up the Public Hearing on its proposed changes to the Town sign law that would allow the erection of an electronic billboard in Stony Point. Current law forbids signage that is moving or blinking, is too brightly lit, or in any other way would create a distraction for drivers on public roads or detract from the character of the Town. The Board, however, is interested in adding a single electronic sign somewhere within the Town that could serve as an additional way to communicate Town business to the residents.

All of the residents who spoke were against the changes to the sign law. They noted the special and historic character of Stony Point, and feared that a blinking electronic sign carrying advertising as well as civic messages would permanently degrade the quality of Town life as well as pose a dangerous distraction to drivers. Frank Collyer pointed out that talking on the phone and texting while driving are already prohibited for that reason. George Potanovic, president of Stony Point Action Committee for the Environment, also questioned the usefulness of the sign and the possible environmental impacts. He also believes that there are other technologies, such as email and text blasts, that are less invasive while more effective for communication.

The Board also heard from Patrick Kildove, an attorney who represents electronic signage companies, and Ian Shepard, a representative of Lamar Outdoor Advertising Company, who both stated that electronic signs can be useful and financially beneficial to the Town, and that they can be designed to blend in with a town’s character. No decision was made, however, as the Board needed to clarify language in the proposed amendment. The public hearing on the matter is to be continued at the next Board meeting.

Planner Max Stach also addressed the Board on the matter of the proposed waterfront zoning amendments. He alerted the Board that there were several potential large environmental impacts that could result from changing current zoning including: development encouraged in a flood plain; aesthetic, historic and architectural impacts; potential traffic and emergency response impacts; potential for light pollution; and a permanent change to the appearance and character of the waterfront, among others.

For this reason he recommended that the Town declare itself lead agency, adopt the environmental assessment form and classify the action as a Type 1 which would require a full environmental impact study. The Board passed a resolution based on these recommendations. Stach also recommended that the Board consult with the original local waterfront revitalization plan devised several years ago in collaboration with the public. The matter will be revisited again by the Board either in late December or early January 2015 in order to allow time for the Stony Point Planning Board to review it, as well as the Rockland County Planning Department.