Budget Compromise in Clarkstown

BY MARIA BROWNSELL

The night after election day i is budget day in Clarkstown. On Wednesday, November 5, the Clarkstown Town Board had a public hearing about the proposed budget for 2015. Supervisor Alexander Gromack opened up the hearing by letting everyone know that they will stay under the tax cap and residents wouldn’t be paying more than they already are.

At the last Town Board Workshop Meeting, Councilman George Hoehmann and Councilman Frank Borelli presented ways to cut a million dollars out of the preliminary budget in order to balance the budget more evenly. At this hearing, Gromack and Councilwoman Shirley Lasker and Councilwoman Stephanie Hausner agreed to some of those suggestions, but not all of them. They said the 15% overtime reduction across the board was not something they were comfortable with, but would agree to it over a period of three years. They agreed to decrease the amount of outside fees and services rendered, to have pay freezes for those who haven’t already had freezes, and to delay some new hirings. With these cuts, there would still be a $500,000 difference that would be taken out of Clarkstown’s reserve to balance the budget.

“We’ve outlined some definite reductions that could help. We don’t have to do the $500,000 from reserves during the year if other money or cuts arise,” said Gromack. “We will have the 1 percent budget, no increase for the taxpayer, as long as they get the government rebate.”

Borelli and Hoehmann would not accept a budget that dips into the reserve fund at all. They suggested more overtime cuts of non-emergency personel, like the town clerk, comptroller, town garage and mini trans.

“We have too many senior citizens and young people that are being taxed out of here,” said Hoehmann. “People cannot afford to live in Rockland. In Rockland and Westchester over 400,000 people have left this part of New York in the last few years.

Hausner said Borelli and Hoehmann talk about making the cuts, but they need to say where the cuts can come from.

The residents were very divided about how and if to make more cuts in the budget. Many were concerned about cutting overtime, especially in the police department. Brian Wagner, vice president of Clarkstown’s CSEA urged the board not to accept the budget with extreme cuts of services.

Lynn Horowitz, a local businesswoman said not to jump blindly into a 15 percent cut across the board. Another resident, David Asher reiterated Gromack’s statement that a budget is a work in progress and the board needs to accept the budget as is, since there is no tax increase and no sacrifice of services.

PBA President Ray Laschet said that the PBA supports a fiscally sound budget, but a reduction in overtime will hurt the police services. Some residents spoke about how Clarkstown has great amenities and they understand they have to pay for them when they live here.

Others felt very different about the situation. A Clarkstown resident, Jeff Gillies addressed his speech to Councilwoman Lasker, claiming that she planted people in the audience to speak in favor of the budget proposal with using money from the reserve.

“Mrs. Lasker, do you truly believe that a 15 percent overtime reduction will put peoples lives in jeopardy?” asked Gillies. “You would rather suggest that a deficit budget is better than putting any time in to try to balance it. Continuing to deplete our resources is not good for our tax payers.”

“You’re $100 million in debt and still raising the budget,” said Pat Gotfried. “We are one of the highest taxed towns in the State.”

Tom Nimick did not agree with a budget being a work in progress. He said a budget is what you are planning for the year and it needs to be figured out ahead of time. He said the town is spending their future by taking assets and selling them to cover the budget.

Ralph Sabatini said that the police department pays $12,000 per day in police overtime. Clarkstown may be the seventh best place in the US to live, but it is also the fourth highest taxed in the US, he said. The board said they won’t use the sale of a cell tower as part of their budget and will put the money into the reserve, but then will take money from the reserve to balance the budget. He called that smoke and mirrors.

Lasker said she was alarmed about a 15 percent cut in overtime in one year and feared it would jeopardize the safety of the public, but agreed that it could be done over three years. She said they need to make cuts in a fair way that won’t hurt the residents.

“I have been against taking from the surplus,” said Borelli. He said they need to find somewhere to get that half a million dollars to balance the budget. “Can we do that without selling out the future? If we can’t, I won’t go with the current budget.”

“Can we come up with some compromise for the half a million dollars?” asked Hoehmann. He said just the interest on the town’s debt is double the tax cap itself.

“We didn’t build this debt from mis-management,” said Gromack. The money went to things that needed to be done, or things they believed the majority of the residents would like done, such as fixing the streets, the drainage problems, buildings, etc. Gromack proposed more areas to be cut to find that half a million dollars.

He said they would eliminate $100,000 for planning in Nanuet, with hopes of a grant to pay for that, a 7 percent overtime cut across the board, a reduction of gas consumption with the recent gas price decrease, auctioning unneeded vehicles, and cuts from postage and advertising. After more than three hours talking about the budget, Gromack said they will go throughout the night until they reach that $500,000.

In the end, the budget in Clarkstown is staying under the tax cap, and there will be no taking money from the surplus, but many cuts throughout different areas.