CHATHAM–Faced with state mandates, a tax cap and an uncertain economy, the Village of Chatham voted April 30 to decrease its tax levy for the upcoming fiscal year by 3.6%.
The $1,141,780 budget includes a reduction of almost 40% in Police Department funding but leaves money allocated for street repairs and additional funding that Mayor Tom Curran hopes will replenish the village’s dwindling reserves.
Mr. Curran’s proposed budget called for a nearly 5% decrease in the village tax levy, but the board decided not to cut the police budget quite deeply and to allocate less for the reserve fund.
For a Chatham homeowner, the new tax rate will be $5.64 per $1,000 of assessed home value. The previous year’s rate was $5.85. For the owner of a $200,000 home, that translates to a $42 yearly savings.
The board had planned to adopt the budget April 25 but ran into a slew of problems with the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet software and with data entries. After nearly two hours of correcting errors line-by-line at that session, the board decided to end the meeting and vote on a corrected version April 30. If the board had not approved a budget by May 1, the mayor’s budget would have been adopted by default.
The mayor said in an email after the meeting that the narrative part of the budget contained embedded formulas that affected the overall document. “Unfortunately, we didn’t discover what the narrative did to the budget until we were sitting at the table,” he wrote.
The board worked feverishly over the weekend to finalize the spending plan. “There was a lot of email traffic,” said Trustee Jay Rippel.
Mr. Rippel, who was elected in March election, was critical of the budget for several weeks for what he said was a lack of information. Though Mr. Curran presented his own version of a budget over a month ago, some lines were only filled in within the last week.
Mr. Curran and Village Administrator Barbara Henry also did not initially include actual spending figures for the last completed fiscal year, only budgeted numbers. This error was pointed out by a public commenter during an April board meeting, and confirmed by Mr. Rippel after looking at village law.
Ms. Henry, who was hired in December of 2012, said this month that the village budget document is more complicated than necessary, leaving room for potential errors. She has said that lines could be consolidated.
Mr. Rippel also questioned why the board was not provided with projections for the water and sewer budget until days before the budget was passed, and questioned the performance of the village’s accounting firm.
Because there had been questions about so many numbers in the budget, Mr. Rippel said he was unsure the numbers in the finalized budget would be accurate.
“It’s a living document,” Mayor Curran responded, and adjustments could be made as more information becomes available.
Mr. Rippel was the lone vote against the budget. Other members agreed that the budget they had was as close as they could get to final, with Trustee Adrienne Morrell noting that since year-to-year spending did not change significantly for most departments, the line items are likely accurate.