My Notes on the Town Budget Workshop Tuesday, Oct 16, 2012
The meeting was called to order at 6 Pm in Town Hall. Supervisor, Roy Brown, and all other board members attended. Donna Diehl took the Town Minutes.
Roy presented the first draft—the Supervisor’s version—of the Tentative Budget and the document contained the actual expenditures for 2011, the Amended Budget figures for 2012 and the Tentative Budget figures projected for 2013. The figures for 2013 included some of the smaller requests from each Department Head, larger requests such as the 2.5% wage increase, but without two of the most expensive items: the new tractor for the Highway Department and a new mower for the Maintenance Department.
Overall, this resulted in a basically flat budget, except for the salary increases and the increase in Town contributions the Employees Pension fund, mandated by the state.
The group began discussing the ins and outs of the issue of providing cell phones for the Town’s employees. Very few towns do such a thing now and instead they have instituted compensation for certain kinds of usage so the employee won’t bear the cost of using the phone for work purposes. There is an exception: The two workers in the Sewer Department must be provided with cell phones because they need to be able to respond to emergencies. There are complicated issues: phone provider contracts that are still in effect, ways to determine how compensation will work, fees, penalties etc., etc. Mike Mortenson said it might be better to let contracts expire rather than canceling them and paying fees. Roy volunteered to look into the alternatives before the budget line item is set.
Another discussion centered on the Police Department. Because the issue comes up every other year or so there was wish expressed to have a complete analysis of the true or net cost of having the Police Department vs using the County Police when there is a need. For example, there is a mandate for security when the District Attorney is in the local court. The examination should include all factors, including the cost of benefits, insurance, police cars, etc. The goal is to have a true understanding of what the cost is. The Town –and the town’s residents–might still rather keep the Department even if there is a net cost to the town. Mike pointed out that hiring police for special events such as Halloween and Park events is not cheap—Officers are paid an equivalent of overtime for such work. Roy was asked to work up the figures for their information.
The Board began their detailed review of the budget, line by line. As was said before, the budget had few changes from the previous year’s budget, so many categories could be clicked off as simply no change. Where there was any curious or significant difference Roy gave the reasons behind it. When the 2012 Amended Budget figures were significantly higher than the Actual Expenditures of the previous budget (2011) questions were asked. In some cases there were specific one-time factors that caused the difference; in some cases it also turned out that this year’s actual expenditures year-to-date were lower than the budgeted amount in a significant way. If left alone those figures would result in accrual of funds that would become this year’s unexpended balance and could be applied to the next year’s budget as a way to hold the tax rate down. In some cases, such as “snow removal”, even if there was a high unexpended balance it might well be needed to deal with an early winter storm such as the one we had in the fall of 2011 at Halloween time.
“Snow Removal” is a line item that one doesn’t want to short-change.
However, under General Government Support the line for the Attorney has been under-spent its budgeted amount for several years in a row, and it was proposed to list a number that was closer to the anticipated expenditure.
When we came down to the Transportation section there was discussion about the Sidewalk project. The main funding is from the Feds and Dot but we must pay 20% of the total cost. So far we have paid $109,000. into the kitty. Once construction begins there is an opportunity for us to “pay” some of the obligations through “in-kind” services such as could be performed by the talent and equipment of the Highway Department. The amount of in-kind services they will accept from us will enable us to get some of the cash funds back—perhaps! [At any rate we have been paying in all along and when the sidewalk is finished this high allocation may disappear, just in time to help the tax rate of a near-future year. When I use the term “we” I mean Germantown taxpayers.—Ed.]
Under Culture and Recreation there is a line used for “Contractual-other” (A1220.44) that currently has funds still available that are meant for the maintenance of Lake George South. These funds will be spent this fall on setting up the ecco-system for restoring the Lake to a good condition. Here, again, some work must be done to implement the good health of the Lake and some of that can be done by our own Maintenance and Highway Departments.
Moving on through the budget we come to “Community and Beautification”. This line will fund some of the improvements proposed by the Economic Development Committee. They plan to use the remaining $2,000 in this year’s budget for building the Kiosks, and next year it is proposed to bump the line up to $7,000 for a one-time higher expenditure to help realize the plans of the committee to place two significant signs of identification, welcome and information for and about Germantown. They are now seeking lower estimates for the proposed signs, but this additional funding should enable a good solution.
The General Government Support ends with the category of Employee Benefits that shows a tentative budget figure that is slightly more than $8,000 higher. This is primarily because the State of NY is requiring Towns and Counties to make higher contributions to the State retirement fund to make it more solvent. This will be mitigated to some extent because of a drop in the (a separate budget ) Highway Department’s retirement contribution by nearly $5,000.00, caused by the retirement of one long-time employee.
The Highway Department and the Sewer District have separate budgets–sepsrste for expenditures and for revenue received== and there the primary change was the 2.5% wage increase that was factored in. However, because of other lower line items, the two departments both come in at budgets about $11,000 lower than last year’s figures.
The Lighting District’s budget remains the same, budgeted at $6,000 revenue and $6,000 expenditures.
There is another budget figure,, that of the Germantown Library funding from the Town, which is $58,000.00. That figure is a set amount and does not change from budget to budget.
The Board discussed the issue of the requested 2.5% wage hike, however at this meeting no consensus was reached.
At the other end of the budget process is the REVENUE side. Here too, revenues are anticipated to be somewhat the same, although the County figures have not yet been determined. Roy feels that the County’s numbers should not be lower than last year’s, and until we get the final numbers we have to assume in an “anticipated “ amount to make the calculations.
In some ways the budget process at this point is one of making “educated guesses” about revenue and unexpected emergencies that might occur. So far we anticipate a similar amount from the County, Mortgage taxes are holding strong and the myriad other small sources of revenue are expected to be quite constant.
Under this Tentative Budget, presented on Oct 16th, the tax rate would be calculated at 2.42%, a 0.69% increase over last year’s rate of 2.40%. Of course, there are two more meeting scheduled for discussion before any figures are presented at the Public Hearing on November 9th
To the best of my ability,
Kay Abraham 537-5404