Wary Chatham taxpayers seek budget clarity

CHATHAM – The Town Board extended the public hearing on the 2014 budget after residents questioned the numbers at a hearing November 6. The board was scheduled to meet again on Thursday, November 14 to continue its review of the budget and, officials hope, adopt it before the November 20 deadline set by the state.

The current proposed budget is $3.6 million, which Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt says is a decrease of about 7% from last year. He says the major decrease comes from less money budgeted for the highway department compared to last year. Last year the board added $300,000 to the Highway Department budget to cover paving costs and that work has now been completed.

 

About a dozen residents attended the meeting. Diedre Henderson asked Mr. DeGroodt if he could explain the various parts of the budget proposal. “I’m asking to put the budget in a way the average town citizen can understand,” she said, suggesting a pie chart of how the town spends the money.

Mr. DeGroodt told her it was hard to break down the budget, especially since there are separate categories for residents who live in the Village of Chatham and for areas outside the village. “I don’t know how you would explain this with a graph,” Mr. DeGroodt said.

Resident Jeffery Lick said they he had worked on a spread sheet comparing several years of budget information and was willing to share that with the board. Other members of the audience, along with Mr. Lick, volunteered to join a committee to help present the budget more clearly to residents.

Board member Henry Swartz said he was very much in favor of the committee and finding a way to get the budget information out. “You asked us to do this last year and we didn’t,” he said.

Board member Bob Balcom said the village breaks down its budget and explains it to residents at budget meetings. He suggested the town look into how the Village Board presents its budget.

Last year the Town Board approved a budget with what board members thought was a 4.8% tax rate increase, with a large part of the increase going to help fund the Highway Department’s paving project. It was only after adopting the budget that Mr. DeGroodt realized that he had made a mistake when calculating the town’s tax base and the tax increase was actually 14%.

Mr. Lick told Mr. DeGroodt at last week’s hearing that coming up with a way to explain the budget clearly was not a “gotcha” project to highlight problems in the budget. “We continue to have budget issues,” Mr. Lick said.

He said a clearer budget would show where the town is now with the budget process and were the board hopes to go.

Board member Maria Lull said that after this budget is passed she hopes the committee would continue to look into long term planning.

The next budget hearing will be Thursday, November 14 at 6 p.m. in the Town Hall. The next regular board meeting is Thursday, November 21 at 7 p.m.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .

 

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