Esslie-Frenia Law June 2023 Leaderboard

Chatham’s new process yields plan for flat levy

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CHATHAM – The Village Board met last week for its third and final budget meeting, with members appearing to agree on a $1.2-million budget, the same amount as last year. If the board formally adopts the plan next week, it would mean no increase in the tax levy in the next village fiscal year, beginning June 1.

Over the three meetings the board and the heads of the Police and Public Works departments found $137,000 to cut from the first-draft proposal, reducing spending as well as increasing revenue by a plan to hike garbage fees.

Village government underwent a major shake-up in March, when Tom Curran unseated 20-year incumbent Mayor Paul Boehme. Mr. Curran and his running mate, Trustee Joanne DelRossi, ran on the Chatham United Party line, promising more transparency in government. The recent budget hearings were their first step toward achieving that result. Over the three nights the board, which also includes incumbent Trustees George Grants, David Chapman and Lael Locke, heard from different department heads about cuts and looked at detailed print-outs of the budget. The budget document handed out at the first budget meeting Friday, April 15 included an explanation of the budget process and the functions of the board and village clerk and treasurer, Carol Simmons, during the budget process.

The previous board held one budget workshop in March, before the election. According to the documents handed out April 15, the initial tentative proposal would have led to a 17.8% increase in the tax rate.

The board found the biggest chunk of money to cut in the contingency budget line, and the latest plan calls for cutting all $50,000 in contingency funds. That plan worried Ms. Simmons, who advised the board at the April 20 meeting, “Lower your contingency budget, don’t eliminate it.”

Ms. Simmons warned the board the contingency money covers emergencies, like the extra snow removal labor time needed this year or a broken piece of equipment at the fire house.

Michael Richardson, a labor consultant who works with several municipalities in the state and was part of the Chatham United Party campaign effort, told the board at the April 20 meeting that boards move money around in budgets from line to line as needed. He said that the board could find the funds within the overall budget if something comes up that requires emergency funding.

Mr. Richardson also stressed his belief that the state will impose a 2% cap on property tax increases. “It’s going to happen,” he said, describing the limit as Albany’s way of forcing villages to consolidate or dissolve. “They want villages to dissolve,” he said of the state legislature, adding that he didn’t think anyone in the Village of Chatham supported dissolving at this time but that it was important to keep the tax rate stable.

The other major target for budget cuts was the DPW, which saw a $40,000 drop in the amount it would receive compared to the original request.

The village many issue bonds to buy new trucks when needed, and $19,000 was cut from the Police Department request. The budget already accounted for the part-time positions for police chief and deputy chief, but cuts were made in equipment and miscellaneous costs.

The board also anticipates an additional $28,000 in revenue by raising the garbage sticker prices from $1 to $2 for small bags and $2 to $3 for large bags.

Trustee Chapman stressed the board could find more revenues, saying that he knew zoning fees that could be increased, especially on big copies moving into the village. He also mentioned raising the price of parking tickets on Main Street.

After the meeting, Trustee DelRossi said the process had been a good one. “I think we did a lot of good work. Everybody chipped in.” The board plans to vote on the budget at a special meeting Monday May 2. The budget takes effect June 1.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com.

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