Rockland towns on verge of big tax hikes
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Rockland County's towns are on the verge of breaking through the state's 2 percent cap on property tax increases 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 three of the five towns have proposed property tax increases that will require them to override Gov. Andrew Cuomo's tax cap.
Unlike public schools, which have to put tax cap overrides to the voters, towns only need approval from councils.
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 an additional $700,000 in expenses to the town's expenditures next year.
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, Town 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.
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.
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.
Haverstraw Town Supervisor Howard Phillps was expected to present his preliminary 2013 budget proposal to the Town Council on Monday night. The details of his proposed spending package weren't available ahead of the meeting.
Phillps, who last month raised concerns about the potential for a sizable property tax increase next year to offset rising costs, didn't return several phone calls Monday seeking comment about the town's budget.
Rockland Towns budget highlights
Proposed 2013 budget: $19.05 million
This year's budget: $18.48 million
Proposed 2013 tax increase: 2.56 percent (under tax cap)
Proposed 2013 budget: N/A
This year's budget: N/A
Proposed 2013 tax increase: N/A
Proposed 2013 budget: $66 million
This year's budget: $64.4 million
Proposed 2013 tax increase: 9.19 percent
Proposed 2013 budget: $95 million
This year's budget: $84.4 million
Proposed 2013 tax increase: 9 percent (Town Board override in July)
Proposed 2013 budget: $ 137.3 million
This year's budget: $130.3 million
Proposed 2013 tax increase: 6.2 percent