COPAKE–Apparently the whittling is not going well.
2010 preliminary town budget figures available at the first installment of an extended budget public hearing November 5 show a 1% increase in the amount to be raised by taxes and a one-cent hike in the tax rate over tentative budget figures released in late September.
These are changes to a spending plan that created a firestorm of pre-election controversy because of estimates that the tax rate next year would balloon from 32% to 57% depending on the political persuasion of the person doing the estimating.
The most recent budget figures show the amount to be raised by taxes as $1,148,200 compared to $1,136,403 in September. Both figures do not include special districts. The tax rate is now at $2.69.
While total appropriations in the most recent budget version are down to $1,889,761 from $2,014,364 in September, revenue estimates are down too, by 4% drop to $841,561.
In September, as the budget debate got rolling, Town Supervisor Reggie Crowley said that the tentative budget was “a starting point” from which the board would craft the preliminary budget. And while there have been some spending cuts, there has been no downward adjustment in the amount taxpayers will have to kick in.
The town’s financial crisis erupted earlier this year when a budget deficit loomed and a majority of board members voted to borrow $100,000 to make up the difference. The vote was split along party lines, with Democrats Linda Gabaccia and Bob Sacks calling for spending cuts and the Republican majority on the board, Mr. Crowley and Councilmen Dan Tompkins and Walt Kiernan, voting in favor of borrowing.
The November 5 public hearing proved just as contentious as earlier budget rounds, with verbal bouts over funding for police, the Highway Department and a senior citizens group.
Councilman Sacks once again brought up the volatile subject of cutting funding for the police force, this time suggesting that the town could slice the department’s budget in half by hiring a full-time constable.
Supervisor Crowley corrected Mr. Sacks on the number of days town police officers are on duty and said he believed the state “did away with constables because they are not certified police officers, they are peace officers.”
Mr. Sacks said emergency situations that require a police officer are “what we have 911 for.”
Mr. Crowley said one of the questions on the Comprehensive Plan Committee survey asked residents whether the town needs a police department. He suggested that further discussion of cuts to the police budget be postponed until after the survey results were revealed November 7.
Mr. Sacks agreed that he did “not want to go against the pulse of the public.”
Highway department expenses proved to be another bone of contention, with Mr. Sacks declaring that Copake spends more per mile on its roads than any other town in the county. He said the town spends $20,000 per mile, while New Lebanon spends $13,000 per mile.
Mr. Crowley jumped to the defense of Copake’s highway spending. Citing his years traveling “every single road in the county” as a sheriff’s deputy, Mr. Crowley said the roads in the towns with minimal spending are impassable in the spring because they “are nothing but mud.” The supervisor praised winter driving conditions on Copake roads, calling them “clear in passable.”
Highway Superintendent Larry Proper criticized Mr. Sacks’ research as incomplete, comparing Copake to only four other towns. Mr. Proper compared all 18 towns in the county and found that Copake came in fifth in spending per mile after Greenport, Stockport, Kinderhook and Germantown.
“We have the best roads in the county. I would not accept second best. The reason why we have good roads is because we’ve been doing the right thing for a long time,” said Mr. Proper.
“Roads are an investment,” Councilman Kiernan agreed.
As the evening wound down, Councilwoman Gabaccia said the board should commit to making a certain percentage of budgetary cuts before the final budget is adopted and “not leave the room until we’re there.”
Councilman Kiernan suggested that expenditures be cut by 21% to reflect a 10% increase. All board members present agreed. Councilman Tompkins was absent.
The public hearing was continued until November 10 and if necessary to November 12 before the regular monthly board meeting.
To contact Diane Valden email dvalden@ColumbiaPaper.com.