Copake taxes spike up 27% under new budget

COPAKE–The Town Board adopted a final version of the 2010 budget November 12, but lost the town’s longtime highway superintendent in the process.

Next year’s budget carries with it a 27% hike in both the tax rate per $1,000 assessed value and the amount to be raised by taxes.

The tax rate will jump from $2.03 to $2.58 next year; the amount to be raised by taxes rises from $859,799 to $1,097,044.

Both figures exclude special districts, but include the one-time deficit reduction tax to pay back the $100,000 the town borrowed to make up a budget shortfall this year. The deficit reduction appropriation accounts for 24 cents of next year’s $2.58 tax rate.

Without the $100,000 deficit reduction amount, next year’s budget would climb by 16%, Town Supervisor Reggie Crowley said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Appropriations in both the general and highway funds are down by 5% next year from a combined $1,954,660 to $1,857,955. But estimated revenues are also down by 13% next year from $989,861 to $860,911, and there is no unexpended balance to soften the blow.

Supervisor Crowley expressed concern about the board’s sales tax and mortgage tax revenue estimates saying he would have preferred them to be a little more conservative, but he said, “I hope I’m wrong.”

Councilwoman Linda Gabaccia told The Columbia Paper Wednesday that when she left the November 12 meeting she understood from the town’s accountant that the budget carried only a 10% increase–including the deficit reduction tax and special districts. Excluding the deficit reduction amount, the increase was 0%, she said.

Town Accountant Michael Torchia of the firm of Sickler Torchia Allen & Churchill CPAs PC of Hudson, could not be reached for comment before press deadline.

Ms. Gabaccia said the town needs consistency in comparing tax rates and whether they include special districts from year to year to determine the difference, said the councilwoman.

She defended the board’s decision to add $8,000 to the sales tax revenue estimate and $5,000 to the mortgage tax revenue estimate. She said the sales tax revenue puts us “on a par” with the amount the town received this year and the mortgage tax estimate is only a 5% increase.

The often bitter budget battle has been going on for months, beginning earlier this year when the town found itself in a $100,000 financial hole and ended up borrowing money to fill it.

Ms. Gabaccia and fellow Democratic Councilman Bob Sacks sought to shave spending, while Republicans Councilmen Daniel Tompkins, Walt Kiernan and Supervisor Crowley voted to take out a loan.

In a surprise move during the November 12 meeting, Highway Superintendent Larry Proper gave the board his resignation, effective midnight November 15.

Mr. Proper, 52, has been the highway boss for the past 11 years and a Highway Department employee for 30 years. He also served as town clerk for 13 years, following in his late father’s footsteps.

Two years remain in Mr. Proper’s current four-year term.

In an email this week, Mr. Proper said he worked long and hard to cut his 2010 budget by 10% at the board’s request. “The only way I could reduce the budget without cutting services to the public or harming our employees was to eliminate the $25,000 capital equipment account, step down as highway superintendent and recommend to the board to promote from within,” he wrote.

The board took Mr. Proper’s advice to promote Deputy Highway Superintendent William H. Gregory, Jr., to the top spot and not to fill Mr. Gregory’s old position. Mr. Proper said in his email that part-time help could be used to supplement the department workforce.

Mr. Gregory was making an hourly wage of $20.21, which translates to about $42,000/year based on a 40-hour work week and excluding overtime. Mr. Gregory will now receive a $50,711 annual salary and the town will no longer pay Mr. Proper’s $25,355.50 annual salary.

In March 2008, Mr. Proper announced that he had accepted a full-time job as superintendent of buildings and grounds with the Taconic Hills School District. Though Mr. Proper continued to fulfill his duties as highway superintendent by putting in hours both before and after his job at the school, he told the board at the time that he didn’t expect the town to continue to pay him his full salary. He invited the board to come up with a reduced amount it thought was fair. The board voted to cut his salary by half to $25,355.50.

By implementing the changes he suggested at the November 12 meeting, Mr. Proper said, “We were able to save about another $30,000 on the highway budget.

“The bottom line was that my decision was in the best [interests] of our highway employees and the taxpayers of the Town of Copake,” Mr. Proper said.

He also said was leaving Copake residents “with the best highway department in the county, and Billy [Mr. Gregory] will do an excellent job leading them.”

To contact Diane Valden email .

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