Haverstraw joins other Rockland towns with cap-busting tax hikes

Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips attends a press conference Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips attends a press conference outside Clarkstown Town Hall in New City. (June 15, 2012) Photo Credit: Angela Gaul

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Haverstraw has joined Rockland County's other towns in pitching property tax increases next fiscal year that exceed the state cap, as they grapple with the impact of rising labor expenses and cost shifting from the county government.

Monday was the deadline to submit fiscal 2013 budgets to town councils for review, and four of the county's five towns have proposed property tax increases that will require them to override Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2 percent tax cap.

Unlike public schools, which have to put tax cap overrides to the voters, towns only need approval from councils.

Haverstraw town Supervisor Howard Phillips presented his preliminary $40.1 million 2013 budget package Monday night to the Town Council. The proposal includes an 8.86 percent property tax increase that will require a tax cap override.

The spending package is an increase of $2.7 million from the previous year's budget, which Phillips has attributed to labor costs in the police department, which are up $550,000 from 2012, state mandates and cost-shifting from the county.

He estimates more than 6 percent of the proposed tax increase was a result of the added costs from the county.

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"If we continue down this road, it's unsustainable," Phillips told Newsday. "We've been cutting since 2006 and doing more with less, but we simply can't keep getting hit by the county and state government with more expenses."

In Orangetown, Supervisor Andy Stewart has proposed a 9.19 percent property tax increase for 2013, closing a town-owned golf course, reducing the police force and tapping reserves to offset projected budget shortfalls next fiscal year.

Stewart said the town's health care and pension costs are projected to go up $1.4 million next fiscal year and that the town is obligated to pay $213,000 in wage increases under a five-year contract with the Police Benevolent Association. He said the county's cost-shifting move has added $700,000 in expenses to the town's expenditures next year.

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He said the town has wrestled with the choice of dramatically cutting services or increasing property taxes.

"We just can't maintain the core services without doing it," Stewart said. "There is very little fat on the town budget,"

Stewart said closing the Broadacres Golf Club would save the town about $150,000 next year in operating and payroll costs. The golf course, one of two operated by the town, cost taxpayers more than $300,000 this fiscal year.

"It costs a lot of money to run a golf course," Stewart said.

In Ramapo, Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence has introduced a $95 million fiscal 2013 budget proposal that includes no layoffs but does bring a proposed 9 percent property tax increase. The Town Board voted in July to override the tax cap.

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St. Lawrence blamed the increases on rising health, pension and labor expenses as well as cost shifting by the county government, which alone added $2 million to the town's proposed spending package.

"We are not going to pass those added costs from the county and state onto the villages," St. Lawrence said.

In Clarkstown, officials have proposed a property tax hike of 6.2 percent, which would require an override by the Town Board. Town officials say nearly half of that proposed tax increase is due to added costs passed on from the county.

"The unstable financial state of the County of Rockland has negatively impacted the financial resources of the Town of Clarkstown and all other towns for 2013," Clarkstown Supervisor Alexander Gromack said in a statement.

In 2012, Clarkstown lost about $1 million in reimbursement for the Rockland County Drug Task Force and the Intelligence Unit. In addition, there were charge-backs from the county that the town had to foot, including $600,000 associated with Rockland Community College and $450,000 involving the Rockland County Board of Elections.

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The town's total budget for next year is set at $137,301,805.

Clarkstown officials also are keeping their eyes peeled for further cost shifts from the county next year -- shifts that could top $1 million -- including costs for mosquito control programs, storm drain treatment, the purchase of police radios and property taxes on vacant land, Gromack said.

In 2012, Clarkstown used $2 million in surplus from its tax stabilization fund to cover additional county costs, Gromack said, up from its normal rate of about $1.2 million to $1.4 million annually.

Stony Point Supervisor Geoff Finn has pitched a budget proposal with a property tax increase of 2.56 percent for residential properties, which is within the state's cap and won't require an override by the Town Council.

His proposed spending package includes no layoffs or deep cuts in services, according to a draft of the budget.

The town's pension costs are projected to increase 10 percent, or about $40,000, next fiscal year; meanwhile, the county's cost shifting for college tuition, election and other costs are projected to cost the town about $400,000 in 2013.

Under Finn's budget proposal, the town's police officers will get a 2 percent pay raise next fiscal year. The wage increases are covered under a three-year contract with the Stony Point PBA. Overall payroll expenses in the Police Department are projected to increase 10 percent, or $327,430, from the current year's costs of about $3.1 million.

Meanwhile, the town has proposed cutting funding for the Stony Point Ambulance Corps by 45 percent, or $260,367, in the proposed budget. A representative from the ambulance corps couldn't be reached for comment Monday.

The Stony Point Town Council will conduct an initial public hearing on the proposed budget Oct. 23.

As the towns point fingers at Rockland County for the whopping property tax increases, county officials are crunching the numbers for next year's budget and say they are wrestling with unfunded state mandates, pension costs and other issues.

"The county is going through the same things that the towns have are going through, but on a larger scale," said Ron Levine, a spokesman for County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef. "We understand how they feel, but we feel the same thing."

Vanderhoef and the county legislature began shifting costs back to the towns in June -- along with 102 layoffs of county employees, spending cuts and new taxes and fees for county residents -- to offset a $21 million mid-fiscal year budget shortfall. County officials say the move was necessary because the state Legislature refused to back a home rule request allowing the county to increase the sales tax by 0.375 percent and to borrow $80 million to meet expenses.

"We have to provide vital county services, and to do that we had to make some adjustments in how we spend our money," Levine said.

Vanderhoef, a Republican, is expected to present his fiscal year 2013 budget to the county legislature by Oct. 23.

ROCKLAND TOWNS BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

Stony Point

Proposed 2013 budget: $19.05 million

This year's budget: $18.48 million

Proposed 2013 tax increase: 2.56 percent (under tax cap)

Haverstraw

Proposed 2013 budget: $40.1 million (including sewer and fire districts)

This year's budget: $37.4 million

Proposed 2013 tax increase: 8.86 percent

Orangetown

Proposed 2013 budget: $66 million

This year's budget: $64.4 million

Proposed 2013 tax increase: 9.19 percent

Ramapo

Proposed 2013 budget: $95 million

This year's budget: $84.4 million

Proposed 2013 tax increase: 9 percent (Town Board override in July)

Clarkstown

Proposed 2013 budget: $ 137.3 million

This year's budget: $130.3 million

Proposed 2013 tax increase: 6.2 percent

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