Chatham proposes cuts to balance 2017 town budget

CHATHAM–The Town Board met last week in a special session to discuss the tentative 2017 budget with Budget and Labor Consultant Michael Richardson and Town Budget Officer Tammy Shaw. Residents filled the meeting room at Town Hall as Mr. Richardson projected the proposed budget numbers on the wall and reviewed cuts planned for next year officials hope will help improve town finances.

Earlier this year the board learned that it was facing a budget shortfall of about $60,000 in the current budget year. The board has taken steps to balance the budget, but among other measures it required the use of all available town reserve funds.

At the October 6 special meeting Mr. Richardson did not present the total $2.8 million budget proposal, which includes funds for the Highway Department, since the board plans to meet with the town accounting firm next week for another 2017 budget workshop. He said he wanted the accountants to be there when the board looks at debt service.

He did say that spending in 2017 proposed budget would stay flat from 2016 and the tax levy increase would be below the state mandated cap, which Mr. Richardson said was at 0.68%.

“You’ll be on good footing if there is no new spending,” he told the board. But he warned, “If you don’t do the cuts this doesn’t work.” He is looking to begin rebuilding the town’s depleted reserve accounts.

The cuts in the proposed budget that were discussed at the meeting included laying off the full-time Town Hall maintenance person, reducing the salaries for members of the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board, cutting the town’s contribution the Chatham/Ghent senior group, and using the county assessor instead of having a town assessor.

Mr. Richardson said that switching to the county assessor would yield a savings of about $4,000 a year. Closing the town’s assessor’s office and moving its function to the county, which charges $7 per parcel, is a policy decision the board would need to make.

With benefits and salary the full-time maintenance person costs the town $48,000, according the budget information given out at Thursday’s meeting. Cutting the position could save the town about $24,000. According to Mr. Richardson, the board would hire a part-time worker for snow removal.

Currently the members of the Planning and the Zoning Board of Appeals are each paid an annual compensation of $2,655 and the chairs and deputy chairs of those boards receive $3,700 a year. The proposed budget changes that to $75 per member per meeting and $100 for the chair per meeting.

Councilman Bob Balcom said compared to other towns in the county, Chatham is only one of three that has seven members on its boards. Most, he said, have five.

“The law requires up to seven,” Mr. Balcom said at the meeting. The preliminary budget would reduce the number of members on each board by one. Mr. Balcom said that as board members’ terms come up they will not be replaced until both boards are down to five members. That savings would total $22,240.

Planning Board Chair Marilyn Cohen was at the meeting and during public comment voiced her concerns. She pointed out that there were no other cuts in salaries in this proposed budget but “my board, we’re looking at a two-thirds decrease in our salaries.”

She went on to say to the board, “I don’t know what your agenda is but I’m not happy with it.”

All the cuts in the budget discussed at the meeting received comments from at least one member public. One resident talked about the importance of having a maintenance person at the Town Hall and another suggested that outsourcing the assessor’s office would be a detriment since the county assessor would not know the people in the town.

Millie Hogencamp spoke in support of the Ghent/Chatham Area Senior Citizens Club, which meets at St. James’ Church in the Village of Chatham for several months of the year and takes trips as a group. The board plans to cut the $3,000 it gives to the group. Ms. Hogencamp said the group is attended by about 100 seniors.

“They look forward to those trips,” she told the board. “I think it’s really unfair.” The board asked her to present a budget and some information about the not-for-profit group.

“We all know this is an austere budget,” said Mr. Balcom.

Mr. Richardson also said the margins in the budgets are very tight.

Councilmen John Wapner said that he was concerned with the amount of time left in the budgeting process to talk about the cuts. He said he wanted time for the board “to discuss each of those things separately.”

The deadline for adoption of the 2017 budget is November 20. The budget takes effect January 1. The board will have a public hearing on the proposed budget November 3. There is another budget workshop scheduled for Thursday, October 13 at 7 p.m. and a regular Town Board meeting on Thursday, October 20 at 7 p.m.

Town Supervisor Maria Lull read a statement at the beginning of the meeting about the budget process, saying, “The budget officer and I would be happy to meet with anyone who has questions or suggestions regarding the budget and how your tax dollars are spent.”

The tentative budget is available on the town’s website at http://chathamnewyork.us/.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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