Copake faces big task as it begins to whittle away spending requests

COPAKE–Last week’s release of the 2010 tentative budget by Town Supervisor Reggie Crowley ignited arguments between officials and residents on both sides of the aisle about how much more in taxes people will have to shell out, and who’s right and wrong about the amounts.

Flinging figures for political purposes is typical in an election year, but the acrimony is especially harsh this time around in the shadow of a budget shortfall that led the town board to borrow $100,000. The vote on whether to borrow was split down party lines, the three Republicans in favor, the two Democrats opposed.

In early November 2007, when 2008 preliminary town budget figures were released, Mr. Crowley, a Republican, said in comments to The Independent after winning the race for supervisor that because the budget figures had shown a 27.28% tax increase, “I think that made up a lot of people’s minds.”

Democrats were incensed, contending that Mr. Crowley’s numbers were flat wrong–that the increase was really 2.8% and that he had deliberately misinformed people to sway their votes.

Now the numbers are out in Mr. Crowley’s 2010 tentative budget, and Democratic Councilman Bob Sacks, a candidate for re-election, wrote in a recent edition of his online Copake Chronicle that Mr. Crowley is looking to increase residents’ taxes by 57%.

That figure is for the tentative budget, which is just that–tentative. Work by the Town Board now begins to arrive at a more manageable spending plan that is, if not mutually agreeable, is at least acceptable enough to a majority of the board to ensure its passage.

Tuesday night, October 6, the board gathered to start the process of crafting the preliminary budget, which will be placed before the board for adoption November 1 so that a final budget can be in place by November 15.

“The tentative budget is a starting point, not the final product. I have cut over $40,000 [in spending] out of the general side [of the budget], but that has been swallowed up by an 11% increase in retirement contributions,” said Mr. Crowley.

Town insurance costs are going up by a minimum of 4% and anticipated revenues from court fines in the coming year are cut nearly in half from $105,000 to $60,000, he said.

While tentative tax rate figures representing a 57% hike, $3.19 per $1,000 assessed value in 2010 from $2.03 in 2009, have surfaced, Mr. Crowley called The Columbia Paper with figures fresh from Columbia County Real Property Tax Department Director Suzette Buoy Wednesday morning, which put the tentative tax rate increase at 32%, up 65 cents per $1,000 assessed value from $2.03 to $2.68.

The amount to be raised by taxes in the tentative budget would jump by 32%, from $859,799 in 2009 to $1,136,403, without special districts.

Mr. Crowley pointed out that $100,000 of the $276,604 difference in the amounts to be raised by taxes is the amount borrowed to make up the budget deficit. Without the amount borrowed, the tentative budget would only be up by 21%, he said.

Total appropriations, excluding special districts, are up by 3% in the tentative 2010 budget, from $1,954,660 to $2,014,364.

General appropriations would rise by 5%, from $873,078 in 2009 to $915,501.

Highway appropriations show a 15% increase, from $1,081,582 to $1,098,863.

Anticipated revenues are down in the general fund next year by 14% and in the highway fund by 6%. There is no unexpended balance to offset spending increases next year.

Among the people that appeared before the board Tuesday night to put in funding requests was Michael Salvatore, president of the Roe Jan Young At Hearters, a local senior citizens’ social group.

In years prior to 2009, Copake supplied the group with a $3,000 appropriation. Last year, the group received nothing.

Mr. Crowley explained to Mr. Salvatore that the town cannot donate to a private group by law, but can enter into a contract for services, as long as the services are open to all senior citizens in town. The group would then have to provide the town with a written statement at the end of the year spelling out what the funds were used for, the supervisor said.

Though there are no funds allocated for the group in the tentative budget, that is subject to change by the board in the coming weeks of budget workshops.

Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia told Mr. Salvatore, “I’m confident we can come up with something for you.”

The next budget workshop is set for October 13 at 7 p.m.

To contact Diane Valden email   

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