GERMANTOWN—The Town Board has crafted a 2015 budget proposal with total spending of $1,249,363, which is $46,360 less than the current budget. The final plan was scheduled to be presented at a public hearing Wednesday evening of this week.
The amount to be raised by taxes is expected to total $586,426, an increase of $8,549, or 1.46%, which is less than the state-mandated cap of 2%.
The reason that the tax levy is higher, despite lower spending, is that in the past the town used fund balances to decrease the amount needed from taxes. This fall, however, “the accountants pointed out to us that the town’s fund balances were getting low,” Supervisor Joel Craig said Monday, November 2. “So we have to try to maintain the fund balances, even as we stay under the tax cap,” he said.
Hours of public workshops went into the development of this budget, to the point of postponing the original Public Hearing date so that the board could fit in another session. One workshop was spent on discussing whether to eliminated the Police Department. That did not happen in the plan proposed for 2015, though Mr. Craig said he still expects to have a professional outside review of the department next year.
For 2015 the Police Department requested six part-time positions, up from the current three, and a new vehicle. They got the vehicle, which is scheduled to be paid for over five years, and four positions.
The strains on the budget could be blamed on the weather. During the severe winter of 2013-14 the Highway Department spent a lot on overtime and road salt. As a result, that department had little to roll over from 2014 to 2015. Its unspent balance going into 2015 would be only $68,000, much less than the $312,000 the state recommends.
Part of the solution was to allocate more in taxes and less in the unspent balance for the Highway Department and the reverse for the town, “general” side of the budget.
A balanced budget still required cuts. The board declined to cut the scheduled 2% raise across the board for town employees. In addition, insurance, pension contributions, fees for the EMS service, contracted payments for equipment and the like could not be cut.
So the board went through the budget line by line to see where cuts might be made. The largest savings came from deciding not to buy a Bobcat utility vehicle that the Parks and Maintenance Department and the Highway Department had looked forward to sharing for mowing and snow removal.
“We had to cut some things that would have been nice to have, like the Bobcat, and we had a healthy discussion about the Police Department,” said Mr. Craig. “We need to increase the fund balance, but revenues, such as sales tax and mortgage tax, look good.”
The town’s accountants want it to have six months of expenses in the bank. “We’re still low, but we will look at some other things next year,” said Mr. Craig. “The tax levy is limited, so we’ll keep a close eye on expenses. I’m hoping for a moderate winter, though that’s not what I’m hearing.”