Rockland towns try to contain budgets in face of mandates

Clarkstown Town Hall on Maple Ave. in New

Clarkstown Town Hall on Maple Ave. in New City. (Feb. 15, 2012) (Credit: Angela Gaul)

Orangetown's 2013 budget, at nearly $63 million, was passed Tuesday night which will bump up property taxes 4.9 percent.

Supervisor Andy Stewart initially proposed a $66 million budget, but he and the town board slashed that by $2 million -- bringing it nearly $1.5 million under 2012's figure -- despite increased state-mandated costs and county chargebacks.

Stewart avoided major layoffs, but said capital spending for new equipment, police cars and municipal trucks was nearly eliminated.


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"A sustainable budget requires capital spending and our budget delays that," Stewart said. "It's OK in the short term, but it's not in the longer term. Some of these cuts, we will need to restore."

The town cut its reserve spending by half, allocating $1.75 million rather than 2012's $3.5 million.

"I was trying to come out of the box with a much more prudent approach," Stewart said. "The budget is not sustainable in that respect. We can't keep spending our savings."

A handful of part-time and seasonal positions throughout were eliminated -- saving about $5,000 per job -- and the town looks to save $25,000 next year by pumping its own well water instead of purchasing it through United Water.

Town fees, such as police coverage for special events, building department and sewer fees, were compared with surrounding municipalities and increased to a level playing field, Stewart said.

"Those fees haven't been adjusted for a number of years," Stewart said. "We didn't want to deter people from using the services so we didn't want to do anything that deflates the business market, but we had to make some increases."

Stewart had advocated for closing the Broadacres Golf Club, which drained the town of more than $1 million since its purchase in 2003, but the board voted to keep it open.

"It was just not possible this particular year" to stay within the tax cap, said Councilman Denis Troy. "[Taxpayers'] expectations are very high that we should be coming in at 2 percent because that's the cap. But we couldn't and people are hurting. It's a tough economy."

Stewart said he opposed the hiring of three new police officers but was overruled.

"The police service is ultimately an expensive department," Stewart said. "It would be better to really push on some innovations on the staffing rather than adding people."

Orangetown police officers' starting salary is $45,000 a year, but that skyrockets to more than $100,000 after five years of service, Stewart said.

On average, an Orangetown police officer costs about $180,000 per year, including overtime and benefits.

"It was really the best we could do with the cards we were dealt," said Councilman Paul Valentine. "We went line by line and spent hours and hours on this."

Throughout the rest of Rockland County, towns have fared differently with their tax increases but ultimately, all were affected by state mandates and county chargebacks.

• Clarkstown and Haverstraw both passed their budgets Thursday. In Clarkstown, Supervisor Alexander Gromack's proposed $137.3 million budget -- up $7 million from 2012 -- was approved by the town council unanimously, according to spokeswoman Erika Moschetti. Taxes will increase 6.2 percent.

• An 8.8 percent tax hike was approved in the Town of Haverstraw when the town board passed a $40.2 million budget. The average homeowner will see an additional $152 per year in property taxes, said Michael Gamboli, the town finance director. Haverstraw faced $2 million in mandated costs, including $800,000 from the state for health care and pensions. Another $700,000 was added from the county in chargebacks and election costs, and $500,000 for rising police force expenditures.

• Stony Point Supervisor Geoffrey Finn's proposed $19 million budget passed nearly unchanged. On Oct. 24, the town board approved the budget -- which did not include any layoffs or major cuts -- under the tax cap, said Jennifer Sciscente, the town director of finance.

• The Town of Ramapo has yet to vote on the $95 million budget proposed by Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, which included a 9 percent tax hike.

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