CHATHAM – The Town Board held a public hearing on the proposed $3.6-million town budget for 2015 last week. The budget calls for a 2.43% tax levy increase, and a tax rate of $3.28 per $1,000 of assessed value for properties in the town and $1.72 per $1,000 in the village of Chatham.
Town Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt said that the two-year average of tax levies keeps the town under the state’s 2% tax cap. The board plans to pass the budget at the next regular meeting Thursday, November 20.
Supervisor DeGroodt opened the November 6 meeting with non-budget business, saying he had been contacted by Tennessee Gas Pipeline, the company owned by Kinder Morgan that operates natural pipelines in the town and a compressor station in Malden Bridge. The company has decided to postpone all future meetings with the public about its proposal to build a new, much larger pipeline through the northern part of Columbia County, including Chatham, New Lebanon and Canaan. Mr. DeGroodt said that the company is reconsidering the project, called Northeast Direct.
As for the budget, Mr. DeGroodt said that a $10,000 cut had been made in the salary for the town recreation director, lowering the figure to $30,000. The town comptroller will receive a raise, with that salary rising from $23,400 to $28,000. Other department heads, including the town clerk and deputy highway supervisor, received 1 ½% raises for year.
“It’s less than a cost of living raise,” said Councilman Bob Balcom when a member of the audience asked about the raises. Mr. DeGroodt said that department heads had asked for 3% raises.
Former town Comptroller Earl Kelsey brought up the issue of health insurance for town employees. He said there was a $49,000 increase between the cost of benefits between 2014 and 2015.
“We can’t expect the taxpayers to continually pick-up the costs for those expenses,” he told the board. He said that the board needed to look at some way for employees to pay part of the expense for health benefits.
“That’s why I opposed the raises,” said Councilwoman Maria Lull, explaining that the board needed to look not just at the employees’ salaries but “the whole package,” which includes their benefits.
Mr. Kelsey also questioned the board’s plan to propose a fund balance of more than $500,000. “I feel you’ve got to be looking at that,” he said of the amount.
Mr. DeGroodt said the Office of the State Comptroller’s is happy with the town’s budgeted reserves. “If we were raising a substandard balance, which I know we are not, the comptroller would have something to say about it,” he told Mr. Kelsey.
Mr. Kelsey was one of four community members who attended the public hearing.
The next regular Town Board meeting with the scheduled vote on the budget is 7 p.m. Thursday, November 20 at Town Hall on Route 295.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email .