Chatham: Budget’s dead! Long live the (other) budget

CHATHAM–The Town Board voted against the proposed budget at the regular meeting last week. The rejection of the proposal means that the $3.6-million preliminary budget goes into effect for the 2016 fiscal year that starts in January.

Supervisor Jesse DeGroodt said that that budget carries a 2.4% tax levy increase for residents in the town and a 1.4% increase for Chatham Village residents who live in the town.

The board held a public hearing during the November 19 meeting to override the state tax cap. Only Councilwoman and town Supervisor-elect Maria Lull voted against overriding the tax cap.

Mr. DeGroodt and Ms. Lull along with fellow board members Bob Balcom and Ms. Rohde voted against the final budget. Board member Henry Swartz cast the lone voted in favor of the budget, saying, “This is what we’ve got in front of us.”

Mr. DeGroodt and Ms. Rohde said at the Thursday, November 19 meeting that they voted against the budget due to a conflict over the deputy court clerk’s salary, and the board was advised at the by Town Attorney Tal Rappleyea not to talk in to detail about the issue at the meeting since it deals with a specific employee.

But during a budget hearing November 10, the board did discuss the deputy clerk’s salary and the reason for the increase during an open meeting that was recorded and placed on the town’s YouTube page with a link to it on the town’s website.

The issue appears to have come up initially in March, when the board raised the deputy court clerk hourly wage during the absence of the court clerk, moving the rate from $14.33 to $19.54 an hour. The change was made during an executive, or private, session held during a regular meeting. The details of the motion are posted in the minutes from the meeting.

After the wage increase was approved, the fulltime court clerk returned and the hours for the deputy clerk dropped back to 24 a week, but the deputy clerk continued to receive the higher pay rate of $19.54/hour.

At the board meeting last week, the board went into a long executive session which, though closed to the public, did include the two town justices and the town attorney.

When the private session ended and the open meeting resumed, the board voted down the budget.

During the budge discussion, Mr. DeGroodt said, “We didn’t do anything other than make a big mistake with the salary we discussed.” He maintained that the wage rate increase in this budget throws our payroll way out of whack.

“I don’t feel comfortable with leaving the raise in as it is,” said Ms. Rohde.

Mr. Balcom said he was voting against the budget for other reasons and defended the higher rate for the deputy court clerk, saying that he never said the pay increase was a mistake.

During a public comment period after the vote, two town employees expressed their anger with the pay increase. Town Recreation Director Sheri Franks asked the board why one employee deserved a 35% raise over everyone else. “I think it sucks,” she told the board.

Highway Department Secretary Tammy Shaw said she’d never seen morale so low among town employees.

Mr. Balcom said that the deputy clerk was continuing to do the work of a court clerk even though she was working fewer hours. “You have to look at the responsibility for the job,” he said.

Also at the meeting:

  • The board held a public hearing and then passed a new peddlers permit law for the town. People planning to sell anything door to door need to obtain a permit from the town clerk’s office. Mr. Rappleyea said that non-profit organizations and political candidates are exempt from the law
  • The board accepted the resignation of Building Inspector/Code Enforcement Officer Walt Simonsmeier effective December 31
  • The board approved a noise enforcement/developer’s agreement with PS21. The performance space on Route 66 is building a new, enclosed theater and has agreed to supply a staff member’s phone

number as a contact for neighbors who have noise complaints. Mr. Balcom called the agreement an exhaustive document and said the amount of detail is amazing. It’s a good piece of work.

The next regular board meeting will be Thursday, December 17 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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