Budget season tougher than ever this year

AMENIA — With a public hearing just around the corner on Nov. 4 (after this paper’s press deadline), budget season is in full swing in the town of Amenia.  As in other towns, it hasn’t been an easy process.

“It’s been very difficult this year,� acknowledged Councilwoman Victoria Perotti. “It’s just such an unknown as far as mortgage and sales taxes go. It really depends on the state of the economy, and when and if people feel comfortable enough to spend their hard-earned money.�

Even if revenues don’t come in, Perotti was quick to point out that the town still has to run and the budget has to make that work.

Councilwoman Vicki Doyle said a good deal of the budget increase could come from the expense of putting a down payment on a loader for the highway department. Doyle said that money needs to be put into a capital reserve fund every year to plan for the purchase of “big-ticket items� for the highway department.

“The problem is that historically every other year we buy a piece of equipment over $100,000 and it skyrockets taxes. Then the next year it looks like there was a negative tax increase. It’s crazy for the taxpayers to have their taxes going up and down. It’s a crazy way to live.�

The tentative budget is currently planning for Town Hall to move into the Amenia Elementary School building by midyear. Perotti said the costs, which would include maintenance, oil and electricity, would not affect the budget in a big way, and that a completed energy audit has helped identify areas of possible cost savings.

But Doyle wondered whether the town could afford the move this year.

“We didn’t have a lot of fat in our budget anyway,� she argued. “Now it’s going to be real hard to maintain with the costs of relocation.�

Doyle said she was pushing for more funding for grant projects, and said she was disappointed that the Harlem Valley Rail Trail extension project, which was awarded a $480,000 grant by the state, has not made more progress.

Finally, Doyle said she felt that in tough economic times, employee salaries were still too high. She said she felt that there should not be a 3-percent increase across the board, and that the supervisor’s salary, currently set to receive a 15-percent increase, is too high. Supervisor and Chief Fiscal Officer Wayne Euvrard could not be reached in time for comment for this article.

“This is not the year to be taking business as usual,� Doyle said. “The county is taking a lead on this issue. They’re letting go a huge number of employees. The county isn’t taking a 3-percent raise. They’re lucky to still have their jobs.�

Perotti said that initially, high salary proposals were the result of having departments provide a “wish list,� but that the 3-percent across the board is a more realistic approach.

“We’re not looking at who holds the office, we’re looking at the job itself and the dollars involved and trying to come up with what makes sense and what we can live with,� she explained.

The Nov. 4 public hearing will be a good indicator of where the budget process will head in the upcoming weeks, both councilwomen agreed. The budget needs to be completed by Nov. 19.

“We welcome input from the public, and we’re open to ideas where we can cut or look at,� Perotti said. “It’s certainly not a done deal by any means. We’ve tried to cut where we can, and the councilmen are not taking a raise this year.�

Doyle said she was hoping to get the tax increase down to 10-percent, and that she hoped people came out for the public hearing.

“I’m not satisfied,� she said. “I think we need to do a lot more work on the budget. We need people to turn out [to the public hearing] with their frustrations.�

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