If you think that things could not get worse in Ramapo, they just did. The Ramapo Town Board adopted the 2019 budget on November 20th. The adopted budget is a massive insult to the hardworking taxpayers of Ramapo. To get “under” the tax cap, the Town, in my opinion, has overestimated some revenues and has also reduced its expense contingency, essentially a buffer, from $2,500,000 to $500,000. You would think that is bad enough, but that is only scratching the surface.
In a time where the average family in Ramapo is struggling to just get by, the Ramapo Town Board voted to give massive raises as follows:
Supervisor Specht salary increase from $145,000 to $165,000 (14% raise)
Dept Supervisor Logan-Charles from $ 53,000 to $70,000 (32% raise)
Councilman Wanounou, Weismandl, & Rossman from $35,000 to $52,000 (49% raise)
Spt of Highways Brinn from $144,000 to $160,000 (11% raise)
Director of Finance Lynch from $144,000 to $161,000 (11% raise)
New position created for Director of Litter Patrol for $100,000 (vacant position)
New position created for Deputy Director of Litter Patrol for $80,000 (vacant position)
The Town has declared that the RLDC (the stadium) will lose $1,875,000 in 2019 and will continue to lose that amount each year through 2022 and beyond. In my opinion, serious decisions, in the near future, will have to be made regarding the viability of the stadium. When I ran for Supervisor last year, my running mates and I proposed some viable solutions. Supervisor Specht and his running mates also had some proposals on the table at that time, but we are now one year down the road from that election and it appears that they have no real solutions in sight. Should the stadium be retrofitted to accommodate all year/all season activities? Should the stadium be closed? Should the stadium be sold to a private entity? Should the Town try to sell the stadium to the county or state? At this point, all of these questions should be on the table.
Some other items of interest in the budget are the closings of the Memorial Park Pool in Spring Valley, the closing of the Saddle River Pool in Airmont, and the closing of the Rustic Tennis Center in Airmont. The town still has $400,000 in anticipated revenues for the Town pools when they are closing 2 out of 3 pools; they also still have $60,000 in anticipated revenues from the Tennis Center that will be closed. These are obvious errors that will need to be corrected. As a public service, I wonder about the decision to keep the stadium open at a loss of $1.875 million, yet close these 3 facilities which primarily serve the residents of our Town.
The Town has not budgeted any expected revenues for the Cultural Arts Center in Spring Valley and the Equestrian Center off of Route 202, so we can only infer that these may be on the chopping block in the near future. We can also infer that these town assets will be the ones that will eventually be declared as surplus property and be sold.
Besides the items mentioned above, during public participation I brought up a number of items that I was also very concerned about. I did not get answers that entirely satisfied me. The Town has budgeted to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants in various departments. My concern is the amount being spent and for what? Is this a backdoor way to hire people that couldn’t ordinarily be hired as employees of the Town? I feel more detailed answers should have been given to the taxpayers of Ramapo.
On the revenue side, the Town, in my opinion, may have been a little too optimistic in their estimates. The monies they are budgeting to receive in mortgage tax and sales tax collections are considerably higher that what they received in the most recent years. If we have a downturn in the economy and housing market next year, this could leave the Town in a big hole.
Lastly, I continue to have a serious problem with adopting annual budgets without knowing the true financial position of the town. The town has not issued audited financials statements for 2015, 2016, 2017, and soon to end 2018. They said that the 2015 audit will be completed very shortly, with years 2016 and 2017 to follow soon thereafter. They also mentioned that the 2018 audit will be done on time in early 2019. We have been told many times that the delinquent financial statements are forthcoming, so we must all keep a wait and see mentality.