Orangetown Town Budget

Last month I wrote about sewers and this month I’m taking on a topic that some might say stinks almost as much: the 2013 Orangetown budget.

Four years into a period of weak economic growth, the town has simply run out of easy options or quick fixes to our budget problems. My role is to work with our department heads and finance folks to produce a first draft (which I submitted on Sept. 24), and then continue working with the Town Board to get to a final draft of the budget by Nov 7. A few things everyone should know:

• Before we even began our budget process, we found ourselves with a $2 million deficit due to increases in mandated expenses for labor, health insurance, pension contributions, and cost-shifting from Rockland County. Needless to say this is a deep hole to climb out of to reach a balanced budget.

• To close this gap between revenues and expenses and balance our budget, we have four options: cut discretionary services (e.g. close parks, eliminate leaf pickup), raise fees (e.g. building permits, marriage licenses), spend emergency reserve funds (did that last year, not much left!) and, of course, raise taxes—our option of last resort.

• My proposed budget does a little of all of these in order to avoid any truly devastating cuts in town services or an even higher tax increase. The proposed budget eliminates funding for Broadacres Golf Course, a small, secondary course which has lost money for years and has now run up nearly $2 million in deficits. I also proposed $1.2 million in other cuts, including $700K in operational cuts at Police, Highway and Sewer Dept.

• We scheduled a public hearing for October 23 at Town Hall to vote on whether or not to exceed the Tax Cap.

• Residents of river villages only pay for selected Orangetown services, divided among various “funds.” Nyackers pay for police, all villagers pay for sewers and parks and town-wide highway services, but villagers do not contribute to the Orangetown building department, because the villages have their own building inspectors and planning boards.

• Orangetown Township was able to meet the “2% Tax Cap” last year by spending down our reserve fund by $3.5 million. Nice trick, but if we tried this again our reserves would be gone and the Town would have to take out loans to meet payroll—not a pretty picture. My budget uses reserve funds much more sparingly at $1.5 million in 2013, protecting our “rainy day fund” for the next emergency.

• Already, Orangetown government barely has enough staff to carry out its mission. If we slash spending still further we would have to reduce or eliminate Town services and/or sell off Town assets. Vital services such as road safety, emergency response and the court system must be preserved. But, ironically, the discretionary items in the budget are some of the most visible and/or enjoyable of Town services: golf, street lights, the bulk waste drop-off center, police response to non-emergency calls, family movie nights in the park, parades, and so on.

Please follow my blog on Patch.com as we move through this difficult budget season, and pray for another winter with no snow— saves hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Andy Stewart is Orangetown Supervisor reach him at supervisor@orangetown.com or phone 359.5100 ext. 2274.